School Beat: “That’s different”

By Doug Hoogerland

2018-19 Principal, Roguewood Elementary

While listening to a story on NPR, I made a comment to my wife about what a bummer it would be to live the way the reporters were portraying a particular group of people.  My wife made a profound statement, including some interesting thoughts that got me thinking….

There are people in this world who walk several miles to get water for drinking and cooking.  There are people in this world who their only means of warmth is a fire.  There are many people in this world who live and sleep in one-room houses.

Have you ever thought that maybe their perspective is one of gratitude and appreciation?  Perhaps on their way to gather water for the family, it presents an opportunity for that valuable time together as a family for which we all strive.  Or, they look forward to chat with other people in their quest for a common resource.  The perspective of living in a one-room house to those who do could be one of extreme comfort and belonging.  Perhaps our perception that they are “poor” or “confined” is flawed.  Those that live this way may embrace the comfort of closeness and togetherness in a way we imagine differently.

When we refer to “these types” of people as being less fortunate, we perpetuate a misleading notion that we are better and above others, or privileged.  We create a perception that our society is the best, or the only way to live.  Even when our children hear us say, “Oh, they are less fortunate,” we begin to root the belief that we are better than other people.  Have you ever told your son to eat his broccoli because there are people starving in other countries?  First of all, elementary-aged kids have a difficult time relating because they lack a complete understanding of the total depiction of “starving”.  Secondly, it sends the message that we have “more” and therefore are better.

The word “different” can lead us to a way of thinking that eliminates, or at least diminishes, the state of mind that we are superior.  Rather than saying to our kids, “They live in mud houses because they are less fortunate,” which probably inspires only one thought, try saying, “How do you think living in a mud house is different from the way we live.”  Or if you see a picture of someone doing or even wearing something that is unusual, or living somewhere besides Michigan or the U.S., try asking your child, “How is that person’s life different from the way we dress or the way we live?”  This promotes a much greater range for thinking, yet it doesn’t perpetuate a feeling of superiority or privilege.

Right and wrong or good and bad or rich and poor do not have to be the focus of our existence.  Rather, the way people act, think or live is just different.  Perhaps if we feel we need to focus on whether something is right or wrong, good or bad, poor or less fortunate, try using the word different, because the truth of the matter is we are all different in the way we think, in the way we act, or the way we live, and that is simply A.O.K!