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The 'Gift of Understanding' wins essay contest

January  02, 2014

The winner of the "Gift to the World" essay contest sponsored by the Center for Vocational Reflection is sophomore Courtney Simross of Belvidere, Ill. Her essay is called "The Gift of Understanding." 

The Gift of Understanding

By Courtney Simross

It is said that in order to really know someone, you must walk a mile in his or her shoes. By taking that metaphorical stroll, you can hopefully gain insight to that person's past, his or her beliefs and ideas, and the reasons behind his or her personality. Unfortunately for me, being born with achondroplasia has left me with shoes too small for most people to walk in. Out of the 7 billion people in this world, only about 650,000 of them know what life is like as a person with dwarfism. So how do I communicate and socialize with others who are so different than I am? How can I expect others to understand me?

At only 4' 2", I am overlooked on a daily basis, both physically and metaphorically. I have been accidentally stepped on or pushed, but people have also silenced my voice and opinions. If I had to choose which of the two angered me more, I would have to say the latter. I did not choose to be born with a disability, and nothing about my physical appearance makes me feel less than human on the inside. So with this being said, I believe it would be very easy for me to reciprocate the treatment I receive onto others.

If people can learn to accept and understand me and my dwarfism, they can learn to do the same for a Pakistani man and his religion. For a war veteran and her battle scars. For an elderly man and his dementia-stained love stories. For a drug addict and her past choices.

However, this is where I choose to turn my disability into an ability. I make it a point to hold other people's opinions to a higher value. I appreciate the things that my peers, family, and friends have to share. I try to understand their stories and where they come from. And most of all, I listen to anything and everything that people tell me, because I know how it feels to be ignored. You can often find me in the middle of class debates, asking the opinion of the opposing side. I have learned that louder does not mean better and belittling others' views will not make mine right. My fight to make others understand me is nothing if I do not extend understanding to others.

If I was ever given the chance to share with the entire world what living in my shoes is like, I would take it. I want to stand on a mountaintop and scream my stories of pain and surgeries. I want to post on YouTube the countless pictures and videos that have been taken of me without my permission by strangers. I want to stand in the middle of the CSL and ask students if they know how it feels to not be able to reach the yogurt at the fruit bar. But more importantly, I want to share the beautiful moments too. I want to explain how people approach me at the gym and tell me that my efforts inspire them to work harder. I want to bottle up the pure joy I see in the children I babysit because I am their height.

I want all of this because I know in my heart that it would ignite a fuse. I would be the first domino in a whole chain reaction of acceptance. If people can learn to accept and understand me and my dwarfism, they can learn to do the same for a Pakistani man and his religion. For a war veteran and her battle scars. For an elderly man and his dementia-stained love stories. For a drug addict and her past choices.

It is the season of giving, but do not forget about the receiving. By extending acceptance and understanding to others, you will reap the benefits tenfold: of open-mindedness, love, and friendship where you never thought possible. Life is even more beautiful when viewed from other people's shoes. Give them the chance to show you.

Sam Schlouch
Director, Public Relations and Arts Promotion
(309) 794-7833
samschlouch@augustana.edu