The Good That Lies Within This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

January 3, 2010
My brother, Miles, has Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. At the age of 21, he is 46 inches tall, 47 pounds, cannot speak, and has the comprehension of a 2-year-old. His features are unusual because of his dark coarse hair, unibrow, upturned lip and nose, and deformity in some of his limbs. Unfortunately, most people don't know Miles as a person because they can't look past his appearance.


“Hey Maddi, do you think Emma and Destiny could use your bathroom real quick?'' asked Nina, a friend from school. Emma and Destiny, who are also classmates, are fidgeting anxiously. “Yeah, sure,” I reply welcomingly. Rushing past, they thank me.

As Nina and I wait in the living room, her eyes glance around but are drawn to Miles who is sitting on the floor sucking on a toy rattle. We discuss Miles' syndrome, and she tries to sound sympathetic by saying, “Wow, Maddi, it must be hard having a sibling like that.”

Emma and Destiny overhear our conversation. Emma looks down at my brother then back and me and says, “Oh my god. That's your brother? I thought he was a pet monkey when I first walked in.” Emma starts laughing but stops when she realizes that she is the only one laughing. My mouth has dropped open, astonished by her offensive comment.

“Emma, that is so mean,” Destiny says. “You don't say that about someone's brother!”

Emma then admits with no apology, “Yeah, I don't know, it was just kind of random I guess.”

I can't stand this. “All right, well, see you guys tomorrow,” I dismiss them as politely as I can.

To this day, thinking back on that moment, I still shake my head in disgust at the way Emma put down my brother. Though in retrospect I realize that when we are young and feel uncomfortable, it is common to either laugh or make insensitive remarks. The challenges Miles faces every day, such as struggling to maneuver himself since a stroke paralyzed him, amazes me. In addition to those challenges, he gets stared at because he looks different. Once in awhile a person brave or curious enough will ask my mother or me, “What does he have?” I am always open to answer these questions because I understand that people are curious. But it irritates me when people like Nina feel the need to give me pity for having a brother with special needs. I don't want people to feel sorry for my family; we love Miles no matter what. This is when judgments become dangerous.

The problem with being judgmental is that we see people for their deficiencies and not their abilities. With a mind set like that, we restrain ourselves from seeing the whole picture. Bits and pieces of a person are not enough to understand him or her. People get so caught up in the things that are “wrong” with Miles that they fail to see the joy that he brings not only to my family but also to our friends. His crooked smile and laughter that comes out of the blue are extremely contagious. I wish everyone could see him the way I do, or at least see past his differences.

So why do we judge people? Whether it's giving that girl in the low-cut shirt a rotten glance, or talking about someone who has made mistakes, what gives us that authority? We have all done things that we are not proud of, but what if others saw you only for that mistake and concluded that you were a bad person? It does not feel good to be categorized.

So one might say, “I don't do that!” or “Everyone does it – it's human nature.” If you think you don't judge, you'd be the first person I've met who doesn't. And if you think it's no big deal because everyone does it, then you should reconsider this dangerous thinking. It leads adults to place each other into social classes based on economic or cultural standing. For years I have learned how in modern society it manifests as income inequality.

I'll bet you've been judged on appearance before. Many adults target teenagers. I've overheard my parents call boys with baggy pants and backward hats gangsters or thieves. Also, many grownups who run businesses in my hometown keep a watchful eye on teenagers who come to their stores. I've been judged by adults in that way, and it makes me angry.

We are not bad people because we prejudge others, but we do become deleterious people when we are unwilling to overcome those prejudices. Look deep within yourself, and consider how people around you are different. Having an open mind, or at least expanding your opinions, will gain you respect from peers and will help you to differentiate what is important and what is trivial. Today, tomorrow, or when the time is right, find someone different, like my brother, and spend some time talking with them rather than making assumptions and judgments.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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wolfinblackThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
May 25 at 9:23 am
i happen to study at an inclusive school, where we are taught to interact with and understand all kinds of students and make friends with everyone. So i have never really met anyone who degrades or insults differently-abled students, and reading this shocks me. Apart from the occasional murmur during school trips and outings, i have never come across it. i have a spunky classmate who uses a walker, and she can do these really amazing stunts with it. Back when we were younger, i remember the ent... (more »)
TheGodmother said...
Apr. 13, 2012 at 12:14 pm
You are beyond your years in your sensitivity, understanding, forgiveness for the love of others. I am so proud of you. Miles is one of the lights of our lives, Aunt Kathy
MaowMaddi This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 29, 2012 at 4:16 pm
Thank you Aunt Kathy! I love you very much!
magic-esi This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 17, 2010 at 4:17 pm
I don't know anyone with a disorder except maybe Down's Syndrome, but I sympathize with what you are saying. I understand what you mean- someone's disorder is not their entire life. A person can have a syndrome and still have a life beyond that syndrome. And what you said about judging other people is true, too. There was this girl in my school who I thought was caught up in trying to be 'cool' because she was always hanging out with boys and had dyed her hair black. Then one day someone told me... (more »)
mplo replied...
Sept. 30, 2015 at 4:40 pm
Just because somebody has had a tough home life, however, doesn't justify being mean to and bullying others in some way or other. Understanding somebody is one thing, but the girl who did the bullying/insulting ostensibly because her father walked out on her and her family sounds like she needs some tough love, if one gets the drift.
~Air~ said...
Sept. 29, 2010 at 9:31 pm

I really like this. I have a cousin who is about eight, and has been almost totally paralyzed since she was a baby. She can move a little, but it is a great struggle for her. She can't speak or talk at all, so she has a hole cut in her stomach, and my family has to pour this liquidy vegetable juice through a little pipe into that hole just so she can get fed. They have another machine that is used to suck all the saliva out of her mouth so that she doesn't choke on it. Her appearance is norma... (more »)

MaowMaddi This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Sept. 29, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Thanks Air.

I'm sure you're cousin is a beautiful person whom you treat with utter respect and love

My brother is also tube fed. 

Kinisha replied...
Oct. 1, 2010 at 9:04 am
Thank you for writing this with love for brother.  My daughter has CDLS and will soon be 10.  My life is enriched by hers and she has taught me more than anyone else.  I have learned about unconditional love, joy for life and that when you have enough determination to do something nothing can stop you.  When people ask me what is "wrong" I tell them nothing is "wrong" that Kenzie is created perfectly for the purpose God has for her no different than you and I.   Fact of ... (more »)
sallysunshine replied...
Oct. 2, 2010 at 6:44 am
I have a Neice who has CDLS and I see how she touches the lives of her family daily and of other who she comes in contact with, how she enriches their lives. She is great!!!
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