Reacting To Differences

 

Carsten at the Little People Conference in Nashville

Carsten at the Little People of America Conference in Nashville

Because October is National Dwarfism Awareness Month…

 

Have you ever caught yourself staring at someone else?
I know what it is like to see someone in church or somewhere else and take notice of a feature that isn’t characteristic of the average person. I tend to assume they have special needs or were involved in some sort of accident. In each instance it’s strange but my mind automatically begins to wander.
  • Are those burns on his face? Is he a fireman? Did he start a fire? Was he the victim of a crime?
  • Awe, poor baby. I wish I could take it away so she could be just like the rest of the kids.
  • He is such a cutie. I wonder what kind of condition he has.
Did I mention that I am still staring as I process these thoughts?  I glance around and notice that others are staring as well. Then the unthinkable happens… I’m discovered.
Do I turn my head and pretend I wasn’t staring? Do I wait until they are no longer looking so I can point them out to someone else and ask their opinion? Or, do I smile at them and wave? Perhaps even go over to greet them during the break.
I can tell you from experience that the latter is the best choice. The only thing worse than discovering that someone is staring at you or your child and them pretending that they weren’t is to find that they are also pointing out the differences to someone else. But, it is understood that curiosity is part of human nature so what are we supposed to do?
Simply don’t hide it. Become uncurious.
Those who are different or are the parents of children who are different are fully aware of it. They know that you are curious. For most, it really is okay that you are inquisitive.  We know that people are interested in things that they are not familiar with. We can remedy that by becoming familiar or becoming educated about it.  Dare I suggest that you walk over and introduce yourself? Bring your children too. The earlier they are exposed to the vast array of differences among people the easier it will be for them to understand and find compassion and friendship.
My son has a form of dwarfism. With his specific type, one of the characteristics is little or no hair. This has led to some stares and of course, a few people thinking he may have a form of cancer. I’m aware of this but I don’t make it a point to explain this to everyone simply for lack of time and energy on my part. However, on many occasions I have been approached by wonderful people who have come up with witty ways to approach me and my son and still quench their curiosity. I’d like to share them with you:
  1. I saw you from across the room and I must say you stand out in the crowd. I took that as God’s way of saying that I should get to know you better.
  2. I believe when someone captures my attention the way you have that I should commit to pray for them. Is there anything specific I can ask God for on your behalf?
  3. I apologize for staring. I became smitten and couldn’t stop. Tell me about this little man…
  4. Ma’am. I’m sorry. I know you caught me staring and I shouldn’t have. I was just interested to know what condition your son may have.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32
I was in no way offended by any of these people or their words. In fact, it spoke volumes to me about humanity. We were all set free from an uncomfortable situation. I have in turn begun to do similar things when I become curious about someone else. Not once have I ever been shunned or turned away. Most people would prefer to share their story than for someone else to assume and never ask for the truth. I don’t want someone praying for my son’s cancer to be healed if that isn’t what he has. Likewise, I won’t be praying for the burns on that man’s face which actually turned out to be skin grafts because he was wounded by shrapnel in Afghanistan. I also won’t call Carrie a poor baby anymore now that I know how blessed her family feels to have her and just how happy and innocent she truly is. And Alex, he actually has no condition. It turns out he was playing in his cousins leg braces because he wanted to be a robot.
More often than not, I have found that people are interested out of a genuine concern for the other person. That is always welcome.

Comments

  1. Hi amy, I love your blog as you blog about so many things I can relate to. I have a son (5) with Down syndrome and, like you, have experienced both sides of the fence. At least with DS there isn’t really a lot of question as to what it is. People are generally pretty accepting of him and some do approach and talk. What does bother me a little when people come up and talk, is when they lump Davy into a category. E.g. “My friend had one of THOSE”, as though he is a pet or type of fruit or something. The other little bugbear is the never ending stereotypes. “They are always so happy aren’t they!” (Boy you should see Davy when he isn’t allowed his sister’s toys!) I do enjoy sharing with people the reality of Davy’s life though and I LOVE it when people actually make the effort to get to know Davy himself.

  2. Amy, your message reminded me of something from long ago. My parents told me a true story that happened years ago while we were shopping at Woolworth’s. You probably never heard of this store but it used to be popular many moons ago. :)

    I was a little kid and I noticed a woman in a wheelchair and she only had one leg. My mom said I stared and stared at her. Finally I walked up to her and asked her what happened to her other leg! Where did it go? I actually tried to lift up her skirt to look for it. My mom was embarassed but the lady was pleased. She smiled at me and explained briefly what happened to her other leg.

    You provide such wise advice for situations like this. Of course, our human nature is to be curious. But why not simply come over and say hi and ask questions.

    Btw, She Speaks is on my list of conferences I’d love to attend Amy.

    blessings and love,
    Debbie

    • Woolworths? Of course I remember that place! Oh my. I have had many hot fudge sundaes sitting on that old time stool with my grandpa. We’d walk that little toy aisle over and over looking for just the right toy. I loved it. This brings back such fabulous memories!

      I so hope that I get to meet you soon!

  3. What a beautiful post, Amy. I love that you provided concrete application for people, because far too often, we have no idea what to do or say. Thank you.

  4. Diana Blount says:

    Amy, I absolutely loved this piece! You know how awkward both sides of the issue are and gave us a way to handle it. Most of us don’t intend to be malicious in our “staring”… we ARE curious and don’t know what to do with it. Thanks for the suggestions!

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