Would you listen to the tiniest of voices if it meant eliminating labels in the world? One organization is on a mission to do just that.
The world is a portrait. It is a picture that comes to life with every word that escapes our lips, every encounter of human contact and every move we make. It is alive even when we feel dead inside, and spins a web of existence while we sleep. Our eyes may not see the inner-workings of that web at first, but we know it’s functioning—through the headlines we read and the images flashed across our television screens.
We wake, we have an option. We can either weave a spot for ourselves within that web, or break its intricate design. If we choose to constrict ourselves, it might seem comfortable for a while—but we have to know that we eventually run the risk of only seeing one side of everything. Our hearts tell us there’s more there, but because we’ve made the specific choice to live blindly, we don’t see anything else.
Our words and thoughts slowly become detached from our minds. We start to label our surroundings—as well as the people within them–by sight alone. There can be any number of reasons as to why this is widely considered a norm in society today—hate, greed, pettiness—but it all boils down to one thing. We often place labels on people—and aspects of who there are—because we don’t understand them.
Granted, the weight of not knowing may not be directly on one’s shoulders. It might be a result of the way they were raised, their surroundings or circumstances. When that happens, it’s difficult to “undo” what’s been done, what’s been fed to the brain as kindness and truth. It shouldn’t stop anyone from trying, however.
The lines between black and white become blurred in an often hurtful, condescending manner that coincidentally drains the world of its color. It not only drains the world of its vibrancy, but it also robs us of the gifts that diversity has to offer. This happens whether or not humanity is awake or asleep, alive or dead. So, it begs the question: Is mankind being challenged enough—not so much by society and the media—but by the sheer acknowledgement and acceptance of its differences?
The Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio looks to answer this and other questions by encouraging young people across the country to take action. The organization, whose mission is to put an end to bigotry, bias and racism, recently released a video of kids and teenagers giving testimonials describing how they see themselves. Then they were asked to describe the way others see them, and how those responses have affected their lives.
As the video plays, it delves deeper into the center of these kids’ hearts and minds, while they’re holding handmade signs with words like “fat”, “stupid” and “unloved” written on them. They hold these signs up to show the power of simple words, but what the signs really represent is the pain of being labeled and stereotyped. It’s almost as if these pieces of paper represent the wounded, exposed parts of these kids which have been left open to the often wild, vicious wind that society brings.
The video did not disclose the names of those who participated in this, which I think added to the intimate vibe as a whole. Just having these young people on camera, willing to open themselves up in the way they did was enough. It was enough to make me stop and think about the extremely diverse and unique group of people I have in my life—close, personal friends who have gone through this same wave of bias and bigotry because of things that will always be beyond their control.
For me, watching and learning about the paths my friends have taken to be comfortable in their own skin is one of the best experiences of my life. It’s a revival, in the sense that I know it’s OK to let go of some of my own insecurities and burdens. I can let go and turn them into things I can embrace, because I see the outcomes of my friends’ transformations and am forever grateful for that. They could have easily turned out to be the complete opposite of the way I’ve come to know them, but they’ve found a way to ride against the tide of negativity. I sometimes feel like we’ve gone one a crazy journey of growth together, even though we crossed paths at different points of our lives.
I think my friends have taught me how to be vulnerable in subtle ways—and that’s what I see in the kids in this video. Not only that, but the questions they’re asked reflect the root of nearly every problem in society today. They challenge everyone who takes four minutes out of their day to watch this video to make a change—to “rethink labels”.
There’s a very distinct, profound beauty to this, because the participants are “letting their guard down” in the same way we assume adults would if asked these questions—the same way that one would hope adults might respond. In fact, the very last question they’re asked—“What is the best thing anyone has ever called you?”—truly reflects the heart and soul of The Diversity’s Center’s mission.
One of the participants replied, “gifted”. Another said, “beautiful”. There was one answer, however that crystalized everything for me”
“The greatest lesson I’ve ever learned is empathy. It’s only through empathy that people have actually gotten to understand me, be kind to me and show me kindness—because you can’t really show kindness to somebody if you don’t see the world through their eyes.”
That’s as “old-school” as it gets, but it’s probably the one thing that carries the most weight because it speaks volumes about being truthful and genuine. It might not solve all humanity’s problems, but it’s a pretty good place to start.
If anything, this video and the kids in it are a reminder that an act of kindness isn’t just a gesture. It’s a conscious choice. It always has been, and always will be. So, in essence, man is his own giver and taker.
Which side of the coin are you on?
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Photo Credit: omnia_mutantur/Flickr