I started my college career – excited and confused – but also a little lost, like most, because I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. That whole concept in and of itself is for another time – but I decided to start with what I knew, and what people had suggested to me – teaching.
I spent my summers, since I could remember, teaching little kids from my neighborhood how to swim (Go Vikings.) I relate well to children because they think simply- have fun, eat cake – just like me, so it seemed like a perfect fit!
*Shameless plug for alma mater * Saint Bonaventure University has a great education program, because had I stayed the course, I would have graduated with a degree that would have allowed me to be certified in not only elementary education, but also equipped to teach students with special needs. Now although my path later changed, I’ll never forget one of my first lessons, from my first professors, in my first (and last) class in the School of Education.
Often one of the concerns when someone is confronted with someone who is different from them, in a way that may be ‘unusual’, they fear ‘what to call them’. No one wants to offend anybody, but people don’t always think long and hard about what exactly they’re saying. This becomes even more important when you learn how to shape young minds, especially those who may learn differently than everyone else. What do we call someone who has a learning disability?
Now this topic (and its obvious importance) found its way onto every single one of our tests and nearly every class discussions -– how do we refer to someone who has a learning disability?
The answer was always – Always –ALWAYS a ‘person with a disability’ – the rule being that the person always comes first. The person isn’t ‘learning disabled,’ they aren’t ‘special needs’, they aren’t a ‘disabled person.’
They are a person. A person who happens to learn or live differently, by the standards of the majority of the population. But is this a fair standard – someone is different because they aren’t just like you? Whatever their situation may be – they are a person – they are not their circumstance.
Then, and even now, I can’t help but think how often we look at the circumstance around people before we look at the people they are. We can get so caught up in all the ‘layers’ surrounding someone that we forget to look into their eyes and see that they are a person too.
Imagine if we extended this concept of always putting the person before the circumstance in even more situations, like perhaps homelessness or drug addiction? What if we saw them as people before the fact that they had an addiction?
In a world where it has become a joke to be ‘too politically correct’ I don’t disagree that there has to be a level of open communication where people can voice their questions, strictly in the name of trying to better their global understanding. However, in using our words, we are describing our priorities of how we identify someone as who they are – we project an image of them to the world around us with our words – so yes, what you say and how you refer to people matters.
We are not our circumstance, we are people filled with light and power. Understanding that we are all people is unifying and powerful. We are more alike than we could ever be different; there is more that unites us than divides us. If we kept that in mind more often, if our curiosity for others circumstances came from a place of compassion rather than for the comparison of their circumstance to our own – what a different world we might live in.