Did you know that children begin making judgments about the appearances of others as early as age 5? While these quick judgments are likely not fair, they are still being made. As a mother of a child who happens to have Down syndrome, I am much more aware of how quickly someone will label my son Guion and set their expectations on his ability and his behavior because they can’t see past the Down syndrome.
We learned that Guion had Down syndrome right after he was born. And honestly, when I learned the news, I cried. I really wasn’t familiar with the condition before he came into our lives and the unknown was scary. Fifteen years later, it’s not scary. There are still unknowns and I have worries, but I have worries for all my kids, they are just different types of worries.
In reality, “Down syndrome” is just a descriptive phrase, like blonde hair or right-handed, and it does not define Guion. He’s capable of so much. We did not know all the things he could do when he was born, nor do we know where his journey in life will take him, but we do know that we’re here to help him be the best version of himself. That includes believing he can do more and helping others do the same.
While my experience has been shaped by a son with special needs, I know so many of us feel on the fringe someplace in the world we live in or find ourselves judging others superficially. It’s interesting to me that we so often connect with others on similarities – how someone looks, from the same neighborhood, are in class together at school – however, we tend to shy away from those we deem “different.”
The reality is — we are all different. We look different, we have different personalities, we like different foods, we enjoy different activities, and we see the world around us differently. Similarities may bring us together, but it’s our differences that make this world an interesting and colorful place. Imagine if we all did the same thing and looked alike? We’d be bored out of our minds, and we wouldn’t be growing and learning as humans.
To allow for this empathy and acceptance, we need to be much more open-minded to other perspectives. We have to be willing to put down our defenses, listen and learn. The act of listening and learning doesn’t mean we have to agree, but it may change how we respond, since we are now more informed.
Given how early children begin to pass judgment, Guion inspired me to write the picture book, Guion The Lion, to encourage little ones, and even adults, to see the world from someone else’s perspective through charming animal characters and an engaging adventure across the African savannah.
When children put themselves in someone else’s shoes, it fosters empathy and with empathy comes understanding, which produces kindness. Kindness is setting judgments aside, accepting someone for who they authentically are–differences and all, and loving them from a place of empathy. Wouldn’t you like to be seen and loved from this place of empathy? In the world we live in, it’s more important than ever to encourage empathy and kindness.