There was once a man and his son. They had never seen an eagle. One day a magnificent eagle landed on their windowsill, and when the child saw it, he exclaimed, “What a beautiful creature!” The man, disgusted remarked, “What an ugly creature!” The man grabbed the eagle and pulled it into their house. “First, I’m going to fix that curved beak of yours.” He used a file and removed the hook in the eagle’s beak. “Those claws are vicious looking,” the man said and he clipped the eagle’s claws until there was little left. When he finished, the man said, “There, now you are better” and he put the bird back on his open windowsill and shooed it away. The son kept looking at him, confused as to what had just happened in front of him ~Author unknown
The claws and curved beak might have looked unattractive or useless to the man, having never seen an eagle before, but what would an eagle be without its distinctive hooked beak and sharp claws? Could it hunt? Would it survive? How would not having these unique characteristics change the nature of the eagle and how would that change the face of the animal world? Like eagles, we each have qualities or characteristics that may be misunderstood or even seen as unattractive or useless to someone else, but they are the very qualities that make us irreplaceable, beautiful, and are the distinctive gifts we bring to the world. What is it that makes you unique and different? What makes you extra ordinary? What would the world be like without your one-of-a-kind ideas, divine passions and talents? Without those unique traits that make you, you?
Diversity enriches our lives. In animal ecology, a variety of species is crucial for survival, and is responsible for the richness and the beauty of our natural world. There is a sense of loss when a species of animal, habitat or flora becomes extinct. And, certainly, we have made great progress in embracing the diversity and differences of cultures, religious beliefs and sexual orientation knowing that not one of these makes someone superior to another and each adds to the rich diversity and splendor of our world.
A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full or wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years…the alienation from the sources of our strength.
So what happens to our sense of diversity celebration when we grow older? Like the man who alters the eagle to suit his own ideas, many of us grow up to the compelling idea to “fix” people who process differently, learn differently or interact differently than the majority and who may not fit into our idea of what is “beautiful”. To claim we completely embrace diversity, we must also acknowledge and appreciate the value of different learning styles, thinking styles and brain styles. None is superior and each are as unique as our fingerprints.
Every child is different. Children develop differently, have different personalities, possess different strengths and require different kinds of support to meet their individual needs. There are children who may climb everything and run around like a firecracker all day…their brain locks onto one of life’s fascinating topics, then skips over to another one and then another. There are others who take a long time to process information. Having special needs is not a deficit – it is what makes us different from everyone else in the world! Some of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey and Steve Jobs were all labeled as ADHD and yet they have tapped into the positive side of this label: intuition, spontaneity, creativity, fearlessness and lateral thinking – and used this to their advantage. These things would make most people wince! The special conditions that unlock the genius behind most diagnostic labels may not be encouraged or even taught in society.
But, what if we approached children’s special needs differently? What if we asked how we could bring out the highest and best in children from the inside out rather than driving results from the outside, with a focus on deficits and adult authority? Many children out there believe that they don’t have what it takes to make a difference to the world. They believe that only people like Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and the likes, are capable of making a difference. The truth is, every one of us is put in this world to contribute and make a difference to the world in our own unique way. It need not be anything out of the world – at times, even the smallest things can be extraordinary.
– Stephanie Caruana is a counsellor who is on a year sabbatical travelling and volunteering around the world. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.