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.