Several weeks ago I attended a play called, “Seeing the Beauty in those who are Different”. I really wasn’t sure what to expect and had some apprehensions about attending since I knew it had something to do with Down sydrome and I have a problem with the limited and stereotypical presentations of those with T21.
The two person play was powerful but left me with mixed feelings. The play was followed by a question and answer session with the audience that was compromised mostly of teen volunteers who worked with children with various disabilities. The director who played the main character with T21 led this and his comments were quite insightful.
Afterward I spoke to the director and I shared with him my ambivalence about seeing a person with T21 portrayed in a way that might feed into common social perception. He agreed with me that people with T21 can and do achieve wonderful things and live mainstreamed lives. But, he said, the unfortunate reality is that many people with disabilities don’t have the family support that my son has. He explained the background of the character to me, and said that far from being stereotypical, the main character has a lot of strength and independence – he is living in an assisted living facility, forgotten by his family. He works, buys his own clothes and despite his loneliness, refuses a visit from someone he suspects is doing it out of pity. He has no outside support and yet he maintains a courageous attitude toward daily life.
At the end of our conversation, I asked the director, “How would you sum up your message in this play – to accept others?”
He adamantly said, ” Who am I to accept someone else? Acceptance implies that you’re better than someone else. We don’t say we have to accept someone who we feel equal to and certainly not someone we feel is above us. What I want people to do is look into another person’s eyes and recognize their humanity, and interact with them from that position.”
I was struck by the power of this thought. To me acceptance was a pretty good thing to strive for societally but his comment helped me recognize that I was living with a limited sense of what acceptance really is about.
It was a major paradigm shifter for me that can be applied to many situations that go far beyond the disability community. Really, it applies anytime you encounter a person or idea who isn’t aligned with you and your way of thinking – to see the person and not focus on his actions, and relate to him from a position of respect and honest connection.
How does this idea about acceptance impact your way of looking at those who are different than you?