The Stranger

According to Merriam-Webster, the primary definition of “outsider” is: “a person who does not belong to or is not accepted as part of a particular group or organization.” Another definition suggests an outsider is “a stranger—someone who doesn’t fit in.”  Neither definition addresses perspective. That is, by whose assessment is a person not accepted by a particular group? Who says someone doesn’t fit in? The matter of perspective may seem irrelevant but the perspective of one making the judgment of whether a person is an outsider is, perhaps, the most relevant of all. It doesn’t matter whether the people in Stanley’s sphere do not consciously consider him an outsider. What matters is whether Stanley perceives that he is not accepted or doesn’t fit in. And his perception relies, in part, on whether he perceives others’ “acceptance” to be a genuine invitation to be part of a group or, instead, as little more than mere tolerance. The difference, in his eyes, is akin to the way a child might either be actively sought as a member of a team in a children’s game or, when the “pickings are slim,” chosen as the least offensive available option.

The question of whether a person is, indeed, an outsider, can be answered only by examining both the individual’s perspective and the motives behind the behaviors of the group of which he either is, or is not, an accepted part. In most cases, though, neither matter is readily examined, so the answer is hard to find. Ultimately, the answer must come from the individual; if he feels like an outsider, he is one. That is true even if his perceptions of the group’s motives for behavior he misinterprets as exclusionary are misguided or categorically wrong.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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