By Juliette Lehman
Riverhead High School
2018 Anne Mackay Scholarship winner Juliette Lehman
In my classes, there is a girl who does not look like other students, who does not think like other students, and who does not speak like other students. When she expresses an opinion in class, other students snicker and roll their eyes. They treat her as though she is subhuman. They whisper to themselves, “please STOP talking” as she tries to articulate her thoughts to a teacher who doesn’t understand and classmates who don’t even bother to understand.
But I understand her. She’s seeing the problems and topics being discussed in a way that is unique and has not yet been approached. She’s asking her relentless questions because she wants to understand more deeply and learn more fully. When she asks questions, she’s four steps in front of her peers. Despite her obvious curiosity for topics, students still insist on teasing her, both behind her back and to her face. They dislike that she’s bothering to take the time to work out the minutiae of what she’s learning, and they see her as an obstacle to the easy, mindless answer to the problems presented.
Growing up with her, she acted differently than other students and played by herself, creating her own worlds and unusual games. She wore clothes that were plain and essential, rather than expensive and frilly. She was a threat to the monotony of the status quo, and a focal point for harassment. Children, horribly, learn to play by the mentality that if you don’t stand down on your individuality, you will stand out, and in a way that they consider to be detrimental to their social order.
The girl will now say things like “I don’t have any friends” to her teachers, and she is not particularly kind to others. I used to believe that she didn’t have friends because of the way she acted, or because she was unkind. However, I now believe that she doesn’t have friends and that she can sometimes be snarky and short-tempered because her peers never bothered to bring her into their circles, never bothered to accept her.
As I’ve grown older and shared more classes with this girl, I’ve noticed that when l take the time to genuinely listen to her ideas, she Is kind and welcoming to me. I’ve learned that “including people” does not mean that you have to become best friends with people that you see are excluded or lonely. What it really means is that you go out of your way to look past the exterior and preconceived notions, and attempt to have real dialogue with that person about their thoughts and opinions. It also means standing up to people, even if they’re your closest friends, and telling them that they shouldn’t roll their eyes or judge her attitude without taking a hard look at themselves first.
In this particular case, when people go to make a rude comment about this girl, I always stop them short and remind them that there’s no way that they know the whole story. Truly, if these student s looked into the past, they would find pure evidence of their harassment and horrible treatment of this girl. It’s the idea that when a person represents something that is an affront to the mainstream, the majority of people want to snuff out that uniqueness and difference in order to maintain their own personal notion of equilibrium.
Although I know that this girl most likely does not consider me to be a friend, each time I interact with her, I treat her with nothing but respect, I feel that the best way to make someone feel respected and worthwhile is to invest your time into them. Take a moment to ask their opinion on a topic, and then actually focus on listening to their response. The best thing that we can do for other people is to make them feel like their thoughts and feelings are not just things for people to roll their eyes it. They’re worthy of your time and consideration and should never be discounted.
I believe that any time you see a person not having their opinions heard, you should do everything in your power to make that person feel as though there is at least a single soul in the universe who cares to listen to their thoughts, and who makes the effort to say hello. The simple act of acknowledgment can turn the perspective that a person is invisible to others into the perspective that they are, in fact, truly worthy.