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August 10, 2013

On the Go: Different doesn't equal bad

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The Daily Star

---- — Everyone has been told that everyone is unique. Barney told us we were special. 

 We believed him. 

But now we grab for every possible label. We create divides and strict lines. We get upset when someone deviates from our norm. We try so hard to destroy our intrinsic connectivity. These divides fuel conflict. Some people try to politely acknowledge different people but that isn’t enough. We need to actively accept people who are different instead of just not disliking them.

We were all taught that everyone is different. But, being the people we are, we must reject diverse chaos and organize, categorize or sort. Somewhere in this the idea that different equals bad rooted itself. Different does not equal bad.

We use many things to label ourselves. We use gender. We use language. We use age. We use political affiliation. We use religion. We use location. We use these to bring us together and to divide us. We let these labels define us, and we judge other people with them. 

Generalizations are made and they hurt people: All southerners are racist. All blondes are stupid. All girls like pink. All kids are flighty. 

What if we got rid of labels and generalizations? I could be me and you could be you. Nothing more, nothing less. We would be forced to look a little deeper. To get to know someone, not just their labels.

This issue presents itself in many ways in many places. One I’ve noticed in particular is schools. If you’re a little too loud, too slow, too fast or too creative, measures are taken to direct you back toward conformity. If we embraced differences in childhood, then children could grow up to embrace differences in all aspects of life. Maybe we could eradicate social cliques and learn to appreciate differences.

There is a song called “The Minnow and the Trout” by A Fine Frenzy. One line is: “Please, I know that we’re different. But we were one cell in the sea in the beginning and what we’re made of was all the same once. We’re not that different after all.” 

That is an important concept to remember. We are all a part of the human family. Even if your norm is too exclusive for most people, you’re still connected to them.

This connectedness comes head-to-head with our social divides. This is where a lot of conflict comes from. These divides we create foster an “us vs. them” mentality. We create prejudice because we are unwilling to consider that people who think or act differently may have worth. Some people have risen slightly above this thought process. They preach tolerance and co-existence. But to achieve peace and equality we must do more than just tolerate differences. We must cherish and support diversity.

Challenge the idea that different equals bad. We are living in such a global age. People are interacting with people different from themselves much more frequently. If we are to keep up and thrive as a nation and a species we need to adapt and evolve.   

We need to stop judging people based on generalizations. Try to be a little more open and really listen to people before you write them off. If we try, different can be seen as good.

Katherine Ahearn is a rising junior at Unatego Junior-Senior High School. ‘Teen Talk’ columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/teentalk.