Recently, when speaking at a TEDx MileHigh Rethink Event, I shared a humbling experience I had with the Brony subculture back in 2013 that helped expand my awareness of cultural formation and how gathering or collectivizing around a certain set of values helps people transcend divides. Although “corporate culture” has made its way into the everyday lexicon of many organizations, we often still take for granted that culture just happens when people show up in the same place together or that it can be incentivized into being. This is not the case. And, as I learned from this encounter, there are ways of holding space around an ideal that invites people to bring more of themselves into gatherings. And that is where the magic happens.
There is no doubt in my mind that there are subcultures in every organization or other community that, when authentically engaged, can create powerful cohesion that not only embraces difference, but, can make a difference.
Below is the original post from 2013. I promised someone in the audience who is related to a Brony that I would share this post on The Roofless Church. When you encounter the content below, I invite you to be as present as possible with the underlying theme of the message.
As I mentioned in the above video, I learned a thing or two from seeing adults, who were not accompanying children, at the showing of the My Little Pony: Equestria Girls movie at one of our local theaters. When I saw how disappointed some of the people were when the tickets were sold out, I was perplexed at first. I thought, “Isn’t this a kid’s show. Doesn’t passage require a child? Why are these people on the verge of tears and some actually crying about not seeing this movie.” Being a curious person when it comes to the phenomena of human relatibility, I wondered what drew these adults to MLP. As we sat in the theater and watched the movie, I understood a little more about this incredibly diverse subculture.
The older I get, the more I understand how hard it can be to be a human sometimes. When I was child I was bullied a lot for being different. Because I was of mixed heritage, short, and had an unusually long and difficult to pronounce name for my region of the country, I stood out. I was also into books, which deemed me a nerd. To top it all off I was into Jesus. Add to that the dress clothes and briefcase I had as public school attire, and my very presence screamed, “Hey bullies punch me.” So I know what it is like to be different and to feel like no one can relate to you. Sometimes I got sad, but for the most part I decided that it was awesome that I was who I was and I loved what I loved and that I didn’t need the group’s approval. I almost preferred being alone. Then one day some bullies were picking on one of my few friends–a kid named Ching. Ching was from China and had lost a leg due to cancer. Seeing them pick on him really pissed me off and I actually went a little nuts on a few kids and tried to hit them with one of Ching’s crutches. It wasn’t my best day. But, after that incident, Ching and I got really cool. It didn’t matter that he didn’t really speak English. Besides both of us getting joked, we had one other thing in common–Transformers. When we hung out Transformers were the thing that really united us. It didn’t matter that we were different on the surface or that I had no clue what he was saying, we were just really cool together. We bonded over a cartoon and a toy and it was across that bridge that we learned more about each other. We related over what we love.
Now mind it we were kids, but really when it comes down to it, what is the difference? In this world of division where we find so many reasons not to relate to each other, I think it is worth honoring anything that brings people together–even if it is a cartoon that was intended for little girls. These adult MLP fans–Bronies, as they are called–have found something that speaks to them and connects them to others. I can’t hate on that. I have to love it. Besides, when you sit down and watch the show, you find that what they teach about friendship is actually pretty awesome. I wish some of the kids in my neighborhood watched My Little Pony. And, I bet a lot of these Bronies feel the same way. I imagine that deep in these people’s hearts they know what friendship is supposed to be and then they see how people tend to treat each other in the world and they know that a kid’s cartoon is closer to the reality of what friendship can be than what most of us experience in our daily lives.
Everyday that I go through life I look for reasons to love when the world gives more attention to hating. I look for unity when so many of us focus on separation. I try to pour myself out even when fear says hold myself back. I’m not going to lie, as much as I tried to stay open to people, I know that a few years ago I may have assumed that something was off with the Bronies. But now I am thinking that there is nothing off about people looking for something that allows them to relate to others and express themselves. What’s off is when we get convinced that there’s no place for us in this world. I mean, deep down isn’t that what we are all looking for–somewhere we belong and a place where we can love what we love?
To be continued in my follow up post, Choosing to Be Different (More from the Bronies)
Check out the trailer for the documentary Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Fans of My Little Pony