By AVERY ZEMLAK | Contributing Writer
Kindness is something that should be universal, but from what I’ve seen lately, it’s not always. Lately, it’s been difficult hearing insults directed at people with disabilities that are commonly passed off as jokes.
I have seen some of the greatest acts of kindness towards those with disabilities. I’ve seen my entire community come together to help me raise money and awareness for my brother’s rare genetic syndrome a few years ago.
I’ve also heard stories about many people breaking barriers and doing things they were told by society and by doctors they could never do.
For example, Helen Keller was the first deaf and blind person to earn a bachelor’s degree and Chris Nikic, just a few months ago, was the first person with down syndrome to complete the Ironman triathlon, which is a 2.4-mile open water swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.
Famous scientist Stephen Hawking won 17 medals, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, all while being in a wheelchair, showing that his disability did not stop him from making large impacts in the world of science. 18-year-old activist Greta Thunberg, who has Asperger’s, has led a world-wide school strike to fight for the climate.
Helen, Chris, Stephen, and Greta are all great examples of how their disabilities didn’t stop them from making an impact in this world.
For the ten years my brother has been on this planet, I have learned more from him than I have from anyone else. He has taught me empathy, kindness and compassion, and for that I am eternally grateful.
He has helped show me that there is more to a person beyond what appears to the eye or diagnosis, and that just one smile can make somebody’s day.
With that said, it is disappointing that there are still people who make fun of, torment, and still use the “r-word” to insult someone’s intelligence. It is important to remember that the words you say leave a mark. Even if you think they don’t.
A single compliment can make someone’s day or even week, but an insult has the power to damage a relationship and hurt someone’s feelings.
Regardless of whether you live with someone, know someone or have no connection whatsoever with a person with disabilities, you can take the time to educate yourself.
If you find the time to say the “r-word” or another offensive comment, you can take even less time googling or asking a reliable source what you’re saying really means.
When you use the negative language, it reflects who you are as a person. But you can fix that with an apology, promising to never say it again and educating others you hear use that language.
It definitely has not been easy seeing and hearing insults that offend a community of those like my own brother, but standing up for him and others is what I have and will continue to do.
In a world where everyone is unique, we can educate ourselves and each other. Together, we truly can make this world a kinder place. We can learn such valuable lessons from each other’s experiences and differences. My hope is that you learned something from mine.
If you see someone being bullied or hurt, don’t be a bystander, stand up for them. You have the power to help someone, so use it.
Avery Zemlak is an eighth-grade journalism student at Paul Revere Charter Middle School. A version of “Kindness is Key” previously ran in the student newspaper, The Town Crier, and has been reprinted here with permission.
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