“The only true disability, is a crushed spirit.” – Aimee Mullins.
Tell your children they’re great. Give them the opportunity to recognize it themselves, offer them empowerment, not just “I’m proud of you” but also “You can be proud of yourself.” Pursue their dreams with them, validate their dreams -however weird and wonderful- get interested in their interests. You know they’re not perfect, you know they have limits, but they don’t matter because if you build them up and tell them they’re great, they’ll believe they’re great and become that.
If there’s one thing our global Muslim community needs, it’s a generation who knows they’re great. There is so much negative out there attributed to our community, we’re in danger of the next generation internalizing it and believing it about themselves (Muslims are violent and hateful and backwards if you watch the news). So tell them at home, as early and as often as you can, “You’re great and here’s why… .” Expose them to great Muslim examples – and great non-Muslim examples too. I regularly ask my daughter “What was Martin Luther King’s dream?” because I don’t want her to forget the message he so passionately delivered. I often ask her “Who was the first woman in space?” because I want her to follow her dreams and know that she, a Muslim girl who will become a Muslim woman, is great and she can be great and she will be great. Find great examples, teach your children about them and regularly bring them into their mind. We have powerful and great Muslim female and male role models to look up to. Khadija, the powerful, respected business woman, and the loyal wife who was the rock and the confidante of the Prophet Muhammad. ‘Aishah the smart respected scholar who taught and is teaching generations. Abu Hurayrah, gentle, with a powerful memory, also teaching generations still to this day through it. Not to mention the many scholars and mathematicians in our history. There is so much greatness for our children to look up to and identify with, and so much potential for greatness within them.
Know your own power, empower yourself through knowledge and understanding. Children do what we do and not what we say, so as important as telling them they’re great, is being an example of empowerment and greatness yourself,. Even if only by being a wise teacher and confidante.
Pursue their dreams with them
When my 5 year old professed her love of Condors, an ugly but majestic vulture native to North America and hanging on to existence by only a dedicated human thread. We all thought it was pretty amusing, how many 5 year old’s do you know who love vultures? But she loved them, so I loved them too. We learned about them together, we googled and we found books and we watched videos. She’s 7 now and more than anything she wants to rescue Condors (when she’s old enough to leave the house alone, she says), importantly, she believes she will – and that’s no coincidence. She participated in naming a baby Condor at the San Diego Zoo, she’s made friends with a Biologist who worked with the early conservation efforts when Condors were extinct in the wild. I pursue her interests to empower her, I adore these majestic, and not really that ugly birds, because she does, I like facebook pages and keep up with Condor news, I facilitate her opportunities to be a part of the Condor Conservation community so she has a base when she’s old enough to do it herself. I tell her she can, and if she works towards it, she will. Essentially, I’m telling her she’s great, empowering her to be confident in her direction so when it’s time, the doors are open and she can walk right through them and be great. Did I mention she has Aspergers, a form of Autism – technically a ‘disability’? No, because it’s not a limitation, it’s a part of who she is, a part of the reason she’s great, with it, not in spite of it. It’s an asset, not an obstacle, she’s able and she’s whole and capable – and great.
When my 4 year old professed his love of the dreaded 8 legged arachnids, I was a little concerned. His parents are both pretty arachnophobic, I wasn’t sure how this was going to work. But I validated his interest, I became interested with him, I googled spiders with him, I collected them in jars (but, only the little ones), I watched horrifyingly detailed youtube videos of black widows and all kinds of tarantulas. My son is Autistic – technically disabled. At the time he professed his love of arachnids, his speech was still quite a struggle, but when he talked about spiders, he spoke clearly and fluidly. Ask him what he wants to be and he will confidently tell you “An Arachnologist!” (or “A ‘rachnologist”.) He’s able, he’s whole, he’s capable, he’s great. His interests have given me an appreciation of spiders, I’m still afraid, but my -technically disabled- son has empowered me past some of my fear, he’s taught me how to push past the things that diminish my ability, so I can focus on what’s important to me. That he knows his greatness, that he knows his power and that he is empowered to be the great person he is, not in spite of his Autism, with it and perhaps, through it.
Watching TED Talks today I came across a talk by a woman named Aimee Mullins, she’s a double amputee and an athlete. She talked about the sobering dictionary definition of ‘Disabled’ and the even sadder antonyms (opposite words) which included ‘Healthy’ and ‘Whole’ – as if having a disability is counter to being a whole and complete person. Please take the time to watch her talk below.