It's a short drive to work. I can hardly listen to a whole favorite song. Many times I'll hear just a portion of a story on NPR. So, I don't remember the woman who came up with this idea; she certainly deserves credit and if I lived a little farther from work and heard who she was, she'd get it.
Anyway this woman's idea is that we are teaching kids a very wrong idea, the idea being that "we're all the same." Political correctness pushes this idea too. We are all "brothers and sisters under the skin." We should be blind to any differences.
Let me take you back the days of my youth. We were playing "Pop Flies and Grounders." The batter threw the ball, hit it with the bat, and everyone scurried around after the ball. If you caught it on the fly, you received two points. If you caught it while it was rolling, you received one. The batter was the judge in whether the ball had bounced or was still rolling, and he or she awarded the points. Pretty lame game, now that I think about it
It was the late 50's. I was probably 10 years old. The kids were playing across the street and I went to join them. And there he was. A black kid! I don't remember what the appropriate term for black people was then; might not have been one. But he sure looked a lot different from everyone else! He was staying with a neighbor under some kind of "sunshine" program where city kids would come and spend some time in the country. That made him different, too. He sounded different. He was a little older than I and had some streets smarts; a certain confidence that bordered on cockiness.
I had no idea what to make of all this and I don't know how else to put this but he was simply different, VERY, VERY different. So what was I to make of the "we're all brothers under the skin?" In those days, at that age, the sameness/difference issues were way too complicated for a kid to resolve. That is, until he hit a grounder in my direction. It rolled to a stop just as I picked it up. He looked at me, smiled, and said: "That ball was alive!" He awarded me a point. Might have been a mercy point, me being a wimpy kid with few athletic skills, but looking back, it was a defining moment and exactly what the woman on the radio was talking about. I smiled back at the black kid and accepted the point we both knew I didn't deserve. At some level, I guess I said to myself: "This guy is OK! He has a gentle side; he's more concerned with relationship and my feelings than the rules of the game. He's in it just for fun." (Note that those thoughts come to me now. At the time, maybe it was just surprise and something about it felt good.)
If you are anything like me, this process was repeated when I met my first Down's Syndrome kid, my first person in a wheelchair, my first old, bed-ridden person. In each and every case the meetings screamed: "He's different!" And that included: "She's scary!" "And: "I'm uncomfortable! Let me out of here!" "There are WEIRD people around here!"
Here's where the woman featured in the radio interview made a huge departure from the "we're all the same" conventional wisdom. She said we should teach kids, from day one, that everyone is different. She was absolutely right. Regarding the "different" people listed above, I found that the Down's Syndrome kid loved the Cleveland Browns just like I did. The girl in the wheelchair loved music she played clarinet, just like I did. The little old lady was my great-grandfather's sister a great, grand aunt, I guess And she had hilarious stories of my beloved Grandpop's childhood days and I loved to hear he was a lot like me.
This was the gist of the original story: If we teach that we're all the same, we will soon find differences, focus on them, and that will keep us apart. But if we taught that we're all different, we'd soon discover similarities, focus on them, and that will bring us closer.
I'd like to find out more about the developer of this ideashe's different I like her already!
Gary Lester, M.S., R.T.C., is the executive director of Family Services of Warren County-a charitable agency that helps people solve problems and be happier through counseling, substance abuse services, and support groups. Learn more about this important work at www.fswc.org.