We Don't Need to Know the Reason for Someone's Disability to Be Kind

The library in the downtown city was bustling the morning we stopped in to see a science show, and we were early. I sent my two children off to play while I browsed some books in the dinosaur section.

I noticed a little boy approach my kids. He was wearing a t-shirt for a local daycare, matching several of the other children as well as some of the daycare teachers. I heard him ask about the appearance of my daughter, who was born with a severe skin disorder, and when my older son responded that she has a skin condition, the little boy asked another question. That’s when his teacher called him over and spoke in a low tone. I caught phrases like “don’t need to ask all those questions” from the short conversation. It was the kind of experience that happens quite often – a child questions my daughter’s deep-red, peeling skin covered in thick lotion, and then a parent or supervisor steps in.

But this woman did something no one else has ever done.

She got up and walked over to me. “I’m sorry he was asking questions about your daughter. I told him that we were all created differently and in different colors. I tell the kids all the time to see how I was made brown, and they have lighter or darker skin.”

“No, it’s OK,” I told her, happy for this extended conversation. “A lot of kids ask about it. She was born with a skin disorder and…”

The woman cut me off. “Now, honey, you don’t have to explain anything to me! We all look different!”

Permission not to explain. Acceptance without explanation.

The one thing that stands out from that brief encounter was that we don’t need to know.

We don’t need to know why to appreciate someone’s differences. We don’t need to know in order to extend ourselves into connection with another. We don’t need to know about someone’s specific condition, or ability, or accident, or other circumstances to simply realize that even in our vast differences, we all share the sameness of humanity.

I always prefer to educate about our daughter’s condition, called harlequin ichthyosis, and would much rather receive a thoughtful question than a stare or a judgmental comment mumbled under someone’s breath about “what a terrible sunburn” – which couldn’t be further from the actual truth of her rare condition, even though it may appear to be similar.

But instances are vividly highlighted in my mind of times when others did not understand, nor did they question. They were simply kind. They seemed to assume the best, instead of the worst – believing that their curiosity about our daughter was not more important than her feelings as a person or our desire to enjoy an outing without being questioned about her appearance.

Yes, knowledge is power, and I have seen firsthand that when someone understands something, they accept and appreciate it much more quickly and easily.

But we don’t need knowledge to hold open a door for the person behind us. We don’t need knowledge to say hello, smile, and meet the eyes of someone who looks different than we do. We don’t need knowledge to give someone a heartfelt compliment or offer of help. And we don’t need knowledge to teach our child how to be respectful to everyone and consider the feelings of another.

Knowledge can be power, but simple kindness is even more powerful.

This article was originally published on CourtneyWestlake.com. Read more from Courtney in her new book, A Different Beautiful.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Ichthyosis

Courtney's daughter riding a toy car

To Those Who Say 'Look at Her' When They See My Daughter

These three words I hear at least weekly. I hear them at the park, at the museum, in the grocery store, at the mall. “Look at her!” Those three words exit the mouths of older toddlers, elementary kids, groups of teenagers, and even sometimes, unfortunately, adults. Those three words are directed toward my precious daughter, my [...]
Child with rare disease

Why You Shouldn’t Type ‘Amen’ and Share Memes Like This

If you’ve been on Facebook at all, you’ve probably seen those pleading posts often featuring a child who appears to be sick. Often the posts also show a picture of Jesus with a request for the viewer to take action. Brenna’s stolen image. “Type Amen for this baby and share,” the post may command. “Keep [...]

When a Child Commented on My Daughter's Skin Condition, and She Responded

I wanted to insert myself into the conversation happening a few feet away from me, to explain and to defend — but I held back. I craned my neck a bit, waiting to hear what my children would say to the little girl who had just asked about my daughter’s red, peeling skin. “She has a skin addition,” Connor said, and [...]
Small girl with skin disorder looks away from camera as she stands on green grass on a sunny day

When My Daughter Asks, 'Do I Look Pretty?'

You smile with glee as you slowly spin and pat the dress we just wrestled over your head. You point your toes out for another admiring look at your new shoes. “Do I look pretty, Mama?” you ask me, your eyes lighting up. “You look so pretty,” I assure you. And I’ll tell you right now, [...]