The Good Life – Respecting Differences

A good friend of mine has a son who is now in grade five. By the time he was part way through grade three, his mother had been advised by three different teachers. They each advised her that, in their opinion, her son suffered from some form of attention deficit disorder. Each of the teachers suggested that she arrange for a determination through a formal psychological evaluation. She declined heeding this advice.

In order to fully appreciate her reaction to this situation, which involved a sense of anger and frustration, you would have to know my friend’s son. He is an extremely bright and creative child with a positive, extroverted personality. I have seen him work at art projects (such as clay sculptures, large-scale paintings, and intricately detailed collages) for hours at a time. At ten years old, he is already an accomplished guitar player and excels at a variety of sports. In fact, I have rarely, if ever, been acquainted with a more evidently gifted kid.

All of this is not to say, however, that he is not a pain in the rear end from time to time. Although, I have never seen him or heard of him being in any way disrespectful to others. Like most highly intelligent children, he has a tendency to question and challenge rather than immediately agree and obey. He is perhaps overly talkative at inappropriate times. He is definitely flamboyant, colourful and (in the eyes of some) a bit domineering at times. In other words, he’s the type of child who is likely to go on to success in a field such as show business, politics, or the corporate world.

I can readily believe that his energy level takes some managing on the part of his teachers. What shocks me, though, is the fact that these educators were so swift to label him. I also must say that I have heard several other similar stories from parents whose children have been apparently summarily saddled with diagnoses of this sort.

I cannot help but wonder if this case and others like it are not symptoms of a larger tendency in our society towards intolerance of different ways of seeing the world. Are we becoming more conservative in our judgment as to what constitutes a “normal” standard of behaviour?

In the case of my friend’s son, he currently has a teacher who has managed to tap into his personality and skills. This teacher has brought out the best in him, by placing him in a leadership role amongst his classmates and asking him to help encourage and support some of his classmates in activities such music and drama. Rather than attempting to stifle his colourful personality, the teacher has chosen to celebrate and divert his colourful personality into a variety of positive outlets.

Surely this sort of support and celebration of our unique attributes as people is something we all need, no matter what age we are. As much as human beings are all very much the same, we are also as individual as ice crystals. Whether we are introverted and thoughtful or gregarious and impulsive, imaginative and free thinking or logical and exact, we each have vital skills that we bring to the world. It is important that we figure out for ourselves who we are as people. We can then take the next step of reveling in these attributes. Following this, we can develop our attributes to their fullest potential. This is preferable to listening to the inner critics and external naysayers who urge us to conform to someone else’s idea of what we should be like at any given time. This respect for individual ways of being must be extended by each of us to everyone that we encounter.