What Nets and Acceptance Have in Common


After doing quite a bit of reflecting over the past couple of weeks, I have decided to ignite a challenge.

The first bit of reflecting came from my most publicized blog post, “#42 – The Trouble With Peers.” It was reposted on The Mighty, Autism Speaks and Godvine. I stopped counting this week when I realized it had more than 20,000 hits. I was amazed — I knew it was a great story, but it was incredible how many people contacted me and said,

“That is my child.”

“That was me.”

“That is my grandchild.”

Or some other version of that sentence. You know what? It made me sad. It made me sad that there are so many people in our world that feel or have felt that they are not part of a group. For the record, you can all be in my group.

My second piece of reflecting came this week. I stood up to some folks and brought an inequality to light. I was amazed at how many people contacted me and said,

“That is also my child. Thank you for saying something, even if it doesn’t make a difference.”

One woman contacted me and said, “It’s a big machine, and you have more supporters than you think. Everyone is afraid standing up against it will have adverse effects on their kids. That’s why they stay quiet. I would love to see someone do something about it, and I guarantee a lot of people will come out to support them.”

What? Since when did we become afraid of standing up to a person or small group of people who impose inequality on other people? When did we become so apathetic that we are not willing to stand up to one person? One.

I also have a teaching blog that is on hiatus now (seriously, who would have time to write two blogs?). All of this reminded me of a blog I wrote a couple of years ago and for the third time, I reflected. I asked my students to write a personal essay. In that essay, nearly all admitted that they were “nerdy” or “weird.” It struck me as funny, because I didn’t think any of them were nerdy or weird.

I reassured them that it’s OK for them to be who they are. They looked at each other as I told them that they collectively held many of the same fears. They smiled at each other. I asked them to tell me about why they felt afraid to share their true, authentic selves. They opened up. It was one of those moments as a teacher when you realize what you were going to teach is not nearly as important as what you are about to teach.

Nearly all of them expressed their relief at attending college. They finally felt comfortable being who they “really are.” I asked what had stopped them before. For a minute, none of them really had an answer. Then, one student piped up. “Although I don’t really know, I know I didn’t want to be made fun of. So I just did what the people who made fun of people expected me to do. I became who they wanted me to be. But the whole time I was really miserable.”

I responded, “OK. So, these ‘bullies,’ tell me — how many were there? How many of the students dictated who it was OK to be?”

“I don’t know… two, maybe three.”

‘How many students were in your class?”

“85.”

“So, let me get this straight — 82 of you pretended to be something you weren’t just to please three of your peers?”

They nodded. Let me tell you, all of them nodded. It opened the floodgate. It opened the gate to talk about mean people. Why is it that mean people win? I’m so sad when I can’t answer my students’ questions. This became one of those moments where you have to talk about grace, forgiveness, kindness and compassion. It’s the same discussion I have with my 10-year-old and 12-year-old. It’s the same discussion I have with my husband about the meanness we encounter as adults.

I have no time for it, and I certainly don’t waste much of my positive life and energy focused on those who choose to be mean. I told my students, “Don’t hold on to hate. Allow yourself to forgive. Never allow your words to be full of vitriol. Think about your own suffering when people are hateful toward you — don’t put it out there in the universe. You get what you give. Give hate and anger and you will be more likely to receive hate and anger. Give love forgiveness, kindness and compassion and you will receive love, forgiveness, kindness and compassion.

Then this morning during worship, I knew what I had to write about. Nets. The casting of nets to gather others. For the fourth time in the past week, I was thrown into a deep reflection. The net metaphor is used often in describing the gathering of something.

So this week, I challenge you to throw out your net.

Your net of love.

Your net of forgiveness.

Your net of kindness.

Your net of compassion.

What if the 20,000 people who read that blog post threw out their nets?

What a difference we could make.

This post originally appeared on 366 Days of Autism. Read more 366 Days of Autism posts on Facebook.

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