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Differences, details and gifts

March 27, 2014 - April Leiffer Henry
An enlightening thing happened yesterday at work. During a departmental staff meeting, a bunch of us creative, marketing types were reviewing a booklet. While discussing abstract concepts like branding and identity, we threw out flowery words such as teamwork and connection and progression.

One of my co-workers remarked on a particular section because it flaunted silly things like statistics and percentages. “Do those numbers really mean anything?” she asked. “I think those figures should be deleted.” Several heads nodded in agreement.

Then, from the corner of the room, another co-worker’s voice spoke up: “You know, guys, some people in the world are analytical thinkers, and they like to see numbers. Not everyone thinks creatively like most of us in this room do.”

Lots of eyebrows raised.

Oooooh, that’s right, I thought. Some people like numbers instead of words. As crazy as it seems to me, some people actually prefer numbers. They even thrive on numbers. I forgot there are people like that.

Others around the conference table had the same realization. OK, the percentages could stay. This time. Sneaky numbers.

There is a scene in the movie “Hitch,” during which Eva Mendes’ and Will Smith’s characters have a confrontation about his dating business. She calls him a scam artist who tricks “women into…”

He interrupts her: “…into getting out of their own way so great guys … have a fighting chance!”

We all need someone to help us get out of our own way sometimes – someone to say, “Not everyone thinks like you do. Try thinking about it this way.”

As I write about this topic, it almost seems too obvious. Of course we need to be open-minded. Of course we need to listen to others’ views respectfully. Of course it is OK to love someone with whom you disagree and to disagree with someone you love.

Except when it isn’t so obvious.

I recently watched the 2010 HBO movie about Temple Grandin, who is brilliantly portrayed by actress Claire Danes. The film chronicles the life of Grandin, a professor, designer of livestock handling facilities, author and speaker who lives – and thrives – with autism. If you haven’t heard of Temple Grandin, please Google her. Read about her. Watch her TED talks. She is amazing. I promise she will inspire you.

Grandin is well known for “thinking in pictures,” and one of her books carries that phrase as its title. I admit – I’ve not read it, but I thought the movie did an excellent job showing her picture thought process. For a long time, Grandin thought everyone’s mind worked like hers, but one of her high school teachers pointed out that her way of thinking was unique.

In a world where most people think in words – and, OK, numbers, too – Grandin had to adapt. But she didn’t stop there. She said, How about trying to understand how my mind works, too? How about helping children learn in whatever way is best for them? So she wrote articles and books and started speaking at educational conferences. Grandin’s teaching has been instrumental in helping many, many children with autism.

One of the most touching moments in the Temple Grandin movie is the ending when Danes’ character recalls her mother’s profound influence in her life. “Everyone worked hard to make sure I was engaged,” she says in the film. “They knew I was different but not less. I had a gift. I could see the world in a new way. I could see details that other people were blind to.”

“Different… Not Less.” In 2012, Grandin published a book with that title. It’s now on my list of books I want to read.

Different, not less. It seems obvious, but because someone thinks or believes differently than me doesn’t make that person or his or her views any less. What if we all started seeing differences as gifts? Because differences are gifts that can help us see the world in a new way, with new details. If we let them. If we can get out of our own way and stop being blind.

Different, not less. I think it can change the world. Thank you, “Temple Grandin,” the movie, and especially the real Temple Grandin, for helping me realize it.

 
 

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