I have known a lot of different people in my life. Many of them are extremely intelligent, and even more are very talented. What I have learned in getting to know such a wide variety of people is that normal is a myth, or as one young man said to me in high school, "Normal is a setting on a washing machine." I find it ironic that the same young man who said that now, as a father, seems to be working hard to help his autistic son be "normal". Unless I misunderstood his intentions, he believes that by removing the excess heavy metals from his son's blood stream, his son will become a "normal" kid. I find myself remembering the short story about the man with a beautiful, loving wife, who desperately wanted to remove her peculiar birthmark so she would be "even better," only to find when he finally did that she died. Being different is not wrong. In fact, most of my friends in school have been the people who were very different from the rest of society.
This week, The Hump Day Hmm asks us to consider the drive to fix or make normal, especially when it comes to children. As a parent, I find myself wanting to nurture the special qualities of my children, knowing all too well that some of those attributes will be attacked by society (and the educational system) simply because they are "different." As I have studied the different schools I am considering applying to, I have come across the discipline of Positive Organizational Studies, which has roots in the growing field of positive psychology. What I love about the discipline of POS is the focus on the positive. Researchers look for the good in an industry, a company, a department, or simply a small group within the greater whole. My mother taught me, sometimes to my annoyance, to look for the good in other people. To bring this aside back to my point, I try to look for the good in my children, and I try to help them look for the good in other people. My wife and I both have a lot of friends who come from far outside the "norm" and we appreciate the beauty of difference. If everyone was the same, after all, the world would be a very boring place.
So, would I do something to help a disabled child of mine be "normal"? I can't say I wouldn't work to help my child adapt their special qualities to be able to deal with society, but I would not automatically assume they needed to be "fixed." One of the greatest men I have known had cerebral palsy from birth. Despite his "disability," he completed a doctorate at Yale. What might he have become if he were normal? Who knows. It's just as likely that he would have been a wonderful, capable person, but he might not have worked so hard to achieve what he did.
I am thankful for diversity, and I appreciate that some of the greatest people I will ever meet might be considered "handicapped" by someone else. Blind, deaf, and dumb men and women have contributed greatly to art, science, and education. Some of the hardest workers I have ever observed are labelled "retarded" by medical science, though supposedly "normal" employees at many a retailer (to use a Southernism) "ain't worth killin'." More often than not someone who is different, who doesn't learn like the rest of society, or that the world labels harshly for some supposed deficiency, has more to teach us than a dozen college professors.