I just read a book by Jodi Piccoult called "House Rules". It's a tale about a young teenage boy with Asperger's Syndrome who finds himself on trial after being accused for the murder of his social skills tutor. One word: Amazing. It raises the issue of what it is like to be different in contemporary society; not just for the one who is 'different' but for the family members of that person too.
Different. Odd. Quirky.
Why are these words considered to be bad?
When someone acts in a way that is not considered 'normal' by society, we automatically judge them; we cannot help it.
Is it the archaic societal views that are so heavily embedded into us that it has become our natural default thinking?
We don't mean to, and we have made exceptions for some differences. Ebony and Ivory can now live together in harmony, after many years of oppressive separation. There are some people with quirks- I know someone who gets random chills regardless of the room temperature- and no one bats an eyelid. But its odd isn't it? So why does nobody take notice of these eccentricities yet someone with Autism or Bipolar is feared?
why do we fear what is 'different'? why do we fear change?
Last Saturday, I was shopping in the city with a friend when we came across a rally- people advocating for the legalization of gay marriage. This prompted a discussion between my friend and I. I admired their determination and pondered why the government was so resistant to grant them this right. My friend said that maybe it was because being in a same-sex marriage was still perceived to be 'unnatural' by some of the world to which I quickly retorted that I was fairly sure that it feels quite natural to them.
I questioned that why could we make exceptions to accept some as they are, but not others? She said that people fear change because they don't know what the outcomes will be.
That is true to some extent- we can not predict with absolute certainty what will be the outcome of all decisions and changes made; but we can start by being more open minded and accepting. This can be done through being more informed about the issues we fear.
Psychology theories have shown that prejudice and fear can be reduced when knowledge is gained. Knowing provides a deeper understanding; which in turn leads to more informed decisions and opinions people form about issues which initially made them feel uneasy and subsequently reducing their fears of what is 'different'.
This is not limited to those with mental illness; this includes homosexuals, asylum seekers; all those who are isolated from nuerotypical (read: 'normal') society because they are 'different' to what societal norms dictate.
As a multicultural nation, our strength should be in diversity- All kinds not just the selective traits that we want to tolerate.
Difference is nothing to be feared. It is easy to put someone into a category.. but just one final thought:
How would you feel if you were the one who was 'different'?