I'm only a few weeks into my fourth semester, but I can already sense that some of my classes this semester go beyond just memorizing facts from a book. Now, I am starting to be graded on participation in class discussions, which means I have to learn how to share my thoughts with people I don't know. This poses a particular challenge for me because although inwardly I am a person who thinks about things a lot and has lots of ideas, I am not good at outwardly discussing anything that might be met with confrontation.
Two of my classes in particular are very small, which makes it hard to go unnoticed, meaning that I can't get away with being quiet. Thinking about how challenging it is to express my opinions effectively, especially since I don't handle confrontation well, I was reminded of something that was said to me in high school that I have never forgotten. It's something I've considered blogging about many times, but I haven't felt that it was the right time to share it until now.
Now I'd like to put a disclaimer here that I am not trying to start a debate by sharing this. It is simply a story about something that happened to me, how it made me feel, and what I learned from it.
The first thing I want to say about this incident is that everyone involved was around sixteen or seventeen years old, and this was yearbook class. Not a government or history class where we were having a debate on current controversial issues, but a class where we were supposed to be designing a yearbook. The girls beside me were discussing an assignment we had to do for our English class, a persuasive paper. Even though I was not involved in the conversation at all, I could hear enough to know that the girl doing most of the talking was explaining that her paper was about pro-choice rights. I was pretty sure even at that age that I did not agree with most of what she was saying, but I had no intentions of interjecting into that conversation and expressing my opinions. I was just doing my assignment and halfway listening to her, keeping my comments to myself. Everything was fine, until the girl turned to me and said something that I haven't been able to forget to this day. I'm paraphrasing, but I still vividly remember the sting of the words she said "Women should be able to chose not to have a child if there's something wrong with it. Not all parents want to deal with the hassle of having a disabled child. Not everyone wants to deal with that like Jennie's parents have to. No offense Jennie!" No offense? Is that a universal disclaimer, a statement that we have come up with to justify anything we feel like saying?
I should mention that I did go home and discuss the incident with my mom, who assured me that even though she didn't know about my disability before I was born, it didn't matter because she wanted me no matter what. I still consider that one of the most important and validating things anyone has ever said to me. The pain that this girl's comment caused me has faded, but the incident has always remained in the back of my mind as a hurtful moment that eventually turned into a life lesson.
I have told you this story not to debate the issue that this girl was talking about, or to gain your sympathy, but to make a point about what it taught me. I think it's very important to know what your worldview is, and to be able explain why you think and feel the way you do about certain issues. It's an essential part of growing up. I also think it can be very dangerous when the way we express our opinions is destructive instead of constructive. It's easy to become so passionate in proving that our own ideas are right that we will do anything to prove that everyone else is wrong, but what does that accomplish? If people agree with you only because you have put them in a position where they have no other option, have you really accomplished your goal? As I continue to go through life trying to balance my dislike of controversy and my desire to be heard, I will keep that incident from years ago filed away in the back of my mind. I will remember what it felt like to have my worth questioned by someone who was just trying to validate her own beliefs, and I will strive to remember that on my quest to have my thoughts understood, it is more effective to be constructive than destructive.