Dear readers, this is the text of my column in today’s Greenville News. I hope you enjoy!

Some things make you stand out from the crowd. I’ve been paying attention for a while, and frankly, being different isn’t so easy. In fact, there are a few things I wish I could do just like everyone else.

Case in point: while flying back from a hunting trip in Alaska some years ago, the steward on the airline asked me what I wanted to drink. I had been outside, cold and wet for part of the week, so I said, ‘hot tea, please!’ ‘Are you sure? Tea is such a production,’ he said, hoping I’d ask for the coffee that sat so easily within his grasp. I wish that I could drink coffee. I’ve tried. I just don’t like it, whatever I add. Unless it tastes exactly like hot chocolate, in which case it’s hot chocolate. But there’s always coffee! It’s at every meeting, restaurant and airline concourse. Coffee is a universal. I suspect, without any substantiating proof, that alien life forms intentionally come to earth for coffee.

But it isn’t just coffee. How I wish I enjoyed football, basketball, baseball, soccer and golf. How wonderful to be able to flip on ESPN and laugh with the guys, recounting the recent stats on my favorite player or NASCAR driver, the way my brother-in-law Dave can; without any effort, fluid and fluent as if sports were a second language.

As a guy, this is very disconcerting. Go to a party and you’ll find ladies discussing men and men discussing sports. ‘So, Ed, what do you think about the Tigers’ chances next year?’ They ask me this as if I have some reason to know. ‘Well, I think encroachment on habitats is a real problem, but conservation efforts are going pretty well, except of course for the Siberian ones.’

I’m directed to go talk to the women. To save my status I tell an ER story of blood and gore and I’m back in the circle, though watched cautiously. I wish I could recount to them my glory days of high-school football; I just never cared about it, or any other sport for that matter.

I also wish that I really cared about how to build things or work on cars. I just don’t. I work on humans, but buildings and vehicles are twin universes of unimaginable mystery to me. I’m happy there are those who can do what they do; I’m also happy they get sick and hurt, so I’ll have a job. (Figuratively happy, that is.)

Unfortunately, being different is harder now than ever. The world has expectations of us, and if we stray from those expectations, we get smacked down and quite literally called names. The ideas of diversity, intellectual honesty and free speech are ironic inventions in a time when dissenting opinions can get you branded a right-wing nut, a fascist or worse…intolerant!

This is a tragic development. I now watch as like-minded people stand together and whisper their opinions about politics or cultural issues. They don’t speak out loud because they might offend, or be offended; or may be branded different; which feels a lot like being told you’re ‘just special.’ A left-handed compliment at best.

I feel the pressure, too. However, as much as I would like to be accepted by everyone, there are still things I don’t like or can’t agree with. Like nationalized health-care; you see, I want everyone to get the best care possible, I just doubt if that will make it happen. Furthermore, I so wish I could get on board with (here come the e-mails) global warming and the tragedy of human existence on an otherwise nice planet. It isn’t that I don’t want to make the planet nicer. It isn’t that I don’t think the world may be warmer. I just don’t know if it’s entirely human in origin, or if it’s catastrophic enough to propel us into a green frenzy. Still, I’m ‘green with envy’ towards those who can simply be moved to tears by films and commercials about the fate of the earth.

I guess my point is that it’s good to be different, but there’s a price to pay. You get called names, like ‘ignorant,’ or ‘heartless.’ You get told that ‘people like you are the problem.’ You don’t get invited to sports events, and you don’t always get your cup of tea.

That’s the price of being different; and the price of dissent. But I’m convinced it’s a price worth paying.

Cup of tea, anyone?

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