We are All Different. We are All Special.

Overcoming fear, prejudice and misunderstanding of differences in other people requires empathy. Empathy, as these essayists have shown, grows out of experience, be it personal, from family or friends, or an encounter with a stranger. Empathy heals the negative perception of differences and develops respect.

This acceptance and embracing of difference starts within every one of us.

“If you cannot love yourself, you cannot love the world and if you cannot respect yourself, you cannot respect the world. … To develop self-respect, first be true to yourself. It is very important to know what you are doing and what you are not supposed to do. Don’t hurt yourselves for the mistakes you commit; instead, sit and think on ways to not repeat them the next time. … We often tend to compare our self with someone who is more successful than us. … Do not compare. Remember that every person is unique in his/her own way. Always have clear and positive thoughts.”

- Colaco Jane Jaclyn, India (Living in Qatar)

 

There can be a lot of pressure to fit in.

“In Korea, life isn’t that easy. There are severe appearance-oriented views. This means that people judge others by their looks, and treat people with better looks better than other people. Lookism in Korea means money, power, high class, and many other priorities.”

Chaeeun Jung was ostracised, by pupils and teachers alike, for years at school, just because of her looks, and focused instead on studying becoming the top student, although this did not help her reputation.

“When my mother recommended me to try plastic surgery before going to college, I was very tempted by it.

After considering it for some time, I decided to go for it. When all the beautiful people are treated well, why can’t I just be like them? I had the surgery, and when I took off all the dressing, I couldn’t believe it. I was looking fine! When I went to school, everything went crazy. I never received that much hospitality ever in my life. I was so happy about the people around me, but was partly angry and hollow. After doing plastic surgery, everyone treated me well. It was too easy compared to all my hard academic studying.”

- Chaeeun Jung, South Korea

 

With so much pressure to conform, it takes enormous courage to express your true self.

“… every single morning [I] put on a mask of someone [I was] not, hiding [my] true self even from the people closest to [me]. … [I] got the admiration I wanted and became popular in the public eye. Through the help of social media, my ego grew bigger as my follower count exceeds that of my close friends. I was hungry for validation…. After years of playing this role, I started losing fragments of myself  …When I was away from friends, I would feel so numb and lonely. Lonely not because I was not physically surrounded by people, but because I had no sense of individuality left inside of me.”

“I realized that I no longer needed to keep up an act to hide who I truly am but embrace it instead. … I pushed the agony of having to throw away something I’ve built for years in the back of my head and soon realized how my life can be way brighter without it. … As I was learning new things about myself, I expanded my horizon in terms of passion and hobbies.”

“From this whole experience, I learnt that we should not change ourselves to make someone else happy. Unless that someone is yourself. This may seem like a minor change compared to those writing about transforming the politics of a nation or solving mass extinctions of animals, but as cliché as it sounds, substantial changes starts within yourself.”

- Felicia Rose Daryonoputri, Indonesia

 

After prolonged bullying at school, Sayo Tanaka has developed a code of conduct to encourage and spread mutual acceptance and appreciation.

“Firstly, when I greet someone, I will smile. Secondly, I will praise my friends’ good points. Thirdly, I will show that I am thankful whenever I receive even a small kindness. Just by doing these small actions over and over, I think we can eliminate bullying. When I spread feelings of mutual trust, I believe that those feelings reach all the people connected with me. The good intentions of each person and words like “I’m here to listen” will help people who feel insecure. My wish is for this positive influence to spread from my class to the whole school, and from there to all of society.”

- Sayo Tanaka, Japan

 

There are those whose differences are unacknowledged or misunderstood - their struggles unnoticed, ignored, or even avoided. By giving a ‘voice’ to mental health issues, Melissa and Cynthia are not only spreading understanding to ‘non-sufferers’, but also reassuring others with similar experiences that they are ‘Not Alone’.

“In 2016, about 15.5% of the global population had any mental disorder. Mental disorders also contribute to 47-74% of the population’s risk of suicide. Yet how many people talk about this? Even when we do, mental disorders are a difficult concept to grasp. Expressing empathy towards physical health issues, such as cancer, is much easier than doing the same for mental health issues. Those who suffer mentally seem fine from the outside, … What if people were more aware about mental health issues, and what if it became less taboo to talk about it?”

“By speaking up, I aim to open up a dialogue about this ‘right’ to feel sadness, and hopefully encourage others to do the same.”

- Cynthia Tze Keng Ko

 

“Since my symptoms are invisible and confusing, outsiders or “non-sufferers” weren’t taking me seriously when I talked about my situation. I knew what I was going though was very much real and painful but I wasn’t getting through to anyone …”

“I created my blog in December 2017 and named it Coffee with a Side of Xanax. At first, I was just submitting little stories about a day in the life of a twenty-something anxious female. Some posts were funny, others were inspirational, but I never knew what was going to come of it. People in my community then began to privately message me and tell me how related to the situations I talked about in my posts. It was then that I realized my writing had become therapeutic, not only for me, but also my peers.”

- Melissa Johns

 

And there are those who struggle against preconceived ideas of their capability and worth.

“We have to make their families realise that, disability is not something to be embarrassed. Everyone including the disabled, have been born with special talents. We have no right to underestimate them. Their families should identify what is that special talent and push them and be a driving force to them. They must be taught not to listen to the surrounding voices that doubt or discourage them. All they need is a positive attitude and some love.”

- Trish Larissa Miranda, India

 

“I want to make people aware that there are no differences between us. It doesn’t matter if the person has some kind of a disability, he or she deserves as much attention and love as any other person gets.”

- Petra Štrk, Croatia

 

“As a developing country, the circumstances of our disabled citizens are often ignored. Unconsciously, once upon a time, I, too, had guiltily defined the entirety of the wheelchair users with their disability. For a long time, we have nonchalantly allowed the stigmatization of this contemporary issue to grow, to a point when the label of being “disabled” has become more disabling than one’s disability.”

“I am on a personal project called The WheelPower and have spent 2 weeks functioning intermittently on a wheelchair. I strongly believe in the significance of the project because this is an opportunity to put myself in the perspective of our fellow wheelchair users, to understand the pain they experience, and to discover effective ways for redesigning our urban environment to be more disabled-inclusive.”

- Jing hui Fu, Malaysia

 

We should all remember that a perceived weakness can become an incredible strength.

“We tried to understand the situations of blind and deaf people by identifying with them, and we thought about what we can do for them. What stuck in my mind most from those classes was a talk by a deaf person named Ms. Kohri. Ms. Kohri has a wonderful job travelling the world almost daily, bringing countries together by translating the sign languages of various countries into English, Japanese and other languages. I imagined that, before she got such an important position, she must surely have wished she could break free of her deafness. But Ms. Kohri took pride in being unable to hear, and was actually happy about it.”

“We are all the same. Even though we look different, we live on the same earth, we look up at the same sky, and we are all living as human beings.”

- Eri Nakayama, Japan

 

We are all different. We are all special.

 


May Peace Prevail on Earth 


  • Bullying UK, part of Family Lives, offers advice and support for anyone affected by bullying in the UK, see their website

  • Find out about your mental health on the Mental Health Foundation’s website

  • ‘Blindness creates social dependency, reduces the workforce, shortens lives, and robs children of education. In developing economies, it causes $49 billion in lost productivity, annually. Blindness magnifies poverty and poverty perpetuates blindness.’ For many, their blindness can be reversed: ‘19.5 million people worldwide are blind from treatable cataracts.’ Find out about the Himalayan Cataract Project, at their website


We wish to thank all the contributors for the positive power of their thoughts and actions.

This is one of five journal entries summarising and highlighting the ideas in the International Essay Contest for Young People 2018. To see these essays in full and all sixty-six finalists, go to the Goi Peace Foundation website.

We wish to apologise to those essayists, whose work was not translated into English, for not being able to include their words.


 

The thumbnail picture is by Zofia Romanowska, Poland, for the Peace Pals International Art Exhibition and Awards 2018. See more on their website.

Liz Mackley