Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (March 16, 2013)
One of my favourite children’s books is a book called ‘You Are Special’ by Max Lucado. It’s about these wooden people called Wemmicks that all live in a village called Wemmicksville. Every Wemmick is different but they have a judging system in the village where everyone judges everyone else. If you were good, talented or beautiful, you would get given gold stars. But if you were clumsy, ugly and stupid, you’d get a grey dot. Most people had a mix of dots and stars but this one character, Punchinello, would always get dots. He was short, had a funny nose, was clumsy and could never do anything right.
One day, Punchinello saw that his friend Lucia didn’t have any dots or stars. He was curious to find out why and Lucia told him to go up the hill and visit Eli, the wood maker. Punchinello was scared at first but ended up having really good conversations with Eli where Eli would tell him how special he is. Punchinello eventually found out that Eli was the one that made him and that he was made to be unique and different to everyone else. When Punchinello could finally embrace this, his grey dots started to fall off because what others thought didn’t matter any more. He knew he was made to be unique.
I love this story because it tells of how everyone was created to be unique. I firmly believe that every person was created by God in a unique way with a special mix of gifts, talents, abilities, strengths, weaknesses, shortcomings and destinies. The unfortunate thing is that people are very similar to the Wemmicks in Wemmicksville – we label people with dots and stars according to their gifts, or lack thereof.
So some children are labeled with stars because of their eloquence and great memory, but some are given dots because they can’t sit still or don’t learn well in a classroom setting.
And the problem with stars and dots is that is affects how children view themselves. Punchinello, before meeting Eli, felt that he was useless because everyone saw him as being so and it wasn’t until he met Eli that he realized he was made to be unique and one of a kind. Stars and dots have the power to inflate a child’s ego or deflate it to destruction.
If we can embrace that every child is unique, we would know that they learn differently, have different developmental levels and are strong at different things. Albert Einstein once said “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”
One of my first students brings this out best. I met him when he was 6 years old and you could tell that he was a very special boy. He was smart, witty, quick to pick up new ideas and all together lovable. But he didn’t fare as well in school because he couldn’t sit still, had messy writing and wasn’t organized. We would try and help him in his areas of weakness like writing and organization but we also realized that we couldn’t expect the same from him as we did some neat, organized students that had a love of writing.
But it came to our charity fundraiser that year and that same boy just shone. He was in charge of selling photo frames that our students had made that year in order to raise funds for a local charity. At the event, he would stand at his stall and explain to passer bys how the frames were lovingly made by students and were only $30 – a meager sum for a worthy cause. When sales were slow, he would run up to guests, holding the handmade frames, and tell them all the money they gave would be given to help children in need. This boy, within two hours, sold every single photo frame on the table.
But the story gets better. After selling every item in his stall, he still had time left and all that was left at his stall was the price tag for the frames. It was a small piece of paper that said ‘photo frames - $30’. This boy then picks up the piece of paper, goes up to one of the adults, and proceeds to sell her the price tag – for $30. The next thing we know, he brings $30 to add to the donation box.
To this day, this boy is a marketing genius. He has helped us raise so much money for charity at our annual fundraiser events and I can’t wait to see where he’ll be in 10 years time, probably selling companies and stocks!
But what hits me about this true story is that every child is like him. Every child has a unique gift that is waiting to be discovered. It might be easy to see if your child is gifted in piano or Math but it may take time to discover your child’s gift in analyzing data, or computer programming, or caring for others. Some gifts rise to the surface sooner than others but whether we see it or not now, trust that it is there.
Every child is unique and our job as parents, teachers and educators is to make each child the best that he can be – not to make him better than others but the best that he can be. The world wouldn’t be the diverse place it is if everyone were a professor or a banker or a ballet dancer. It is diversity that makes the society a healthy and interesting place and it starts from recognizing the uniqueness of each person. See the uniqueness in your child, help him develop to be the best he can be and see how your child succeeds. There is power in uniqueness.