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The Good That Lies Within MAG
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.