Two days ago I had the pleasure of meeting a lovely girl Lily. Lily is twenty one and she has Down Syndrome.
All her life Lily has faced rejections. Her family rejected her, and family’s friends. She was rejected from many regular schools. She was rejected for many jobs for which she had applied. However, she keeps smiling and being positive.
Having heard her story made me wonder: how do we set the standards of who is normal? Aren’t we all a little bit different and unique in our own way? And who are those who set “normality” standards and by whom they are entitled to set them? There are so many definitions and estimations of who and what is considered normal. And it seems that somehow between the lines, one can read that physical appearance and mental health are the main factors in deciding who is normal.
Furthermore, pretty face, fitness, skin colour, and youth are what matters in career pursuit. And add to that the speed of solving the tasks and eloquence, and you are the top score.
But let us leave jobs aside and focus on social acceptance and definition of normality.
There are few people on this planet who don’t have certain health issues at least a dozen times in their life. And there is a great number of those who were born with certain health problems. I don’t like the word “problem” in this case, but it is definitely better than the word “handicap”. Some of us are gluten intolerant, others have diabetes, anaemia, blood coagulation disorders, schizophrenia, cystic fibrosis, retinal dysplasia, tumour, leukaemia, haemophilia, scoliosis. And so on, and so on. Some of these are inborn or congenital, others are acquired. Usually, those people with inborn or congenital diseases are immediately classified under the group of the unrepresentative or abnormal. Those who later, during the life, acquire certain disease are usually called ill, but it seems, they are still, somewhere on the bottom of the normal group, except if they get mentally ill. Therefore, it seems those with inborn diseases are doomed.
However, people who have accidents and lose some parts of their bodies (leg or arm) or get serious scars that ruin their physical appearance are the critical group. They are often treated as half-normal and half-abnormal. They are usually pitied for their loss. Their physical appearance doesn’t give them credits for a proper job, and often they are avoided and condemned, unfortunately.
It seems that physical appearance plays a great role in deciding who is normal and who is not.
Down Syndrome causes certain changes in physical appearance that deviate a person who has it from “normal”. Losing one limb or two or all brings the same consequences.
Anyway, this seems only applies in our human world. Animals appear to be less cruel in deciding which animal is normal.
I often go to the beautiful beach in Bali which is not overcrowded. You don’t see many people there. But monkeys love it. There is a monkey who lost his leg below the knee. He seems totally fine without it and even though it must be much harder for him to jump from one branch to the other and to fetch food, in any other way, he seems a regular member of his monkey group. Other monkeys don’t mind if he is limbless. They pick lice from him, and he picks other monkey’s lice. They all play together and sometimes they fight. But he does not seem separated or condemned by others. Well, I guess we humans have a lot to learn from monkeys.
And you, my dear Lily, don’t worry. You might not be so fast in solving problems (not all of us are!), and you might not be so eloquent (many of us are not), and you might not be the best runner in the world, but you don’t need to be. It does not mean that anyone without Down Syndrome is more intelligent or better than you are. You are unique in your own way. Just like everyone else.