OPINION: A time for greater understanding

OPINION: A time for greater understanding

Years ago I learned how much benefit there was to gaining even a little understanding about the experience of those with autism. It can be like traveling to another country, where you might know some words of the language, but slang, colorful language and cultural references are bewildering.

That came to mind the other day when I was reading about a program designed to help police officers and others who might be the first responders to an emergency situation. The program helps them understand what it’s like to be someone with autism and to better understand the autism spectrum, a  range of “conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication,” as stated by the advocacy group Autism Speaks.

I remember thinking that everybody ought to get this kind of training, or something like it; that while it’s obviously important in emergency situations, it’s important in non-emergency situations, too.

You can call it the “walk a mile in my shoes” approach.

I have nothing but admiration for the intrepid Wallingford teenagers who led a rally the other day in front of Town Hall called the Stop Asian American and Pacific Islanders Hate and Black Lives Matter protest.

“I am not happy to be here. I am scared,” said Amy Bui, a Sheehan High student. “Scared for my parents who own their own small business. I am scared for my little sister who broke my heart when she came home from elementary school telling me about the jokes her classmates made against her.”

I’ve been to grade school and high school, and even in what some regard as a kinder and gentler era it was full of brutal bullying. We can learn early that it’s easy to be mean and of its cheap rewards. Some have trouble moving beyond that.

I like to think we’re working on it. We just put in the rear-view mirror four years of a presidency that indulged divisiveness, and that approach will likely always be around as a political tool. But there’s always the choice to reject it and move forward.

There were about 100 people at the Wallingford rally, as the Record-Journal reported. Another speaker, who, I would like to emphasize, is 16 years old, had this to say. Her name is Heather Rae Gaydowen:

“We must remember that we are stronger than any of the hate thrown at us. Our love, unity and respect for one another will always overpower the hate and fear that has surrounded us for too long.”

There’s been an opportunity to learn how that might work during the past year of the coronavirus pandemic, which while it requires social distancing to keep us safe has also compelled us to recognize the importance of our interconnectedness.

We’ve had to learn how to do that without the usual fanfare. You start to lose track of all the cancellations. The Daffodil Festival. The Saint Patrick’s Day Parade. Celebrate Wallingford. And Wallingford’s 350th Jubilee. You wonder how old the town will be before it will be able to throw a party.

And now you can add the Puerto Rican Festival to the list. Can you imagine how much fun it would have been to celebrate Meriden’s Miguel Cardona and his rise to the highest education position in the nation?

“I’d rather be safe than have anybody get sick,” said Hector Cardona, in explaining why the festival couldn’t go on. Miguel Cardona’s father is the chairman of the festival committee.

That’s also a unifying message. There’s no point in celebrating if it risks somebody’s, anybody’s, well-being. When you wear a mask you’re doing so to protect others as well as yourself. The same goes for when you social distance. We’re getting somewhere when watching out for others becomes so routine.

The way to celebrate now is to remain patient. Perhaps inclusiveness can become a more integral part of the world we hunger to return to.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or jkurz@record-journal.com

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