Embrace those who are different from you — Anthony Yeo

Source: The Sunday Times
1 June 2008

Embrace those who are different from you

In this fortnightly column on life issues, veteran psychotherapist Anthony Yeo talks about accepting differences in people

By Anthony Yeo, Life Lines

I watched Wilde, the movie portraying a part of Oscar Wilde’s lifestyle, and left feeling sad and discomfited.

The Wilde I had adored for his literary prowess and inimitable wit was in his time admired for his unique literary style and talent. His plays performed to sell-out audiences and were received with standing ovations at a time when Victorian England was characterised by reserved and restrained patrons of the arts.

Unfortunately he was condemned to hard labour in prison, dying a pauper’s death all because he was found guilty for having engaged in same-sex relationships.

Wilde was ‘loved for being unique, hated for being different’, suffering the ignominy of being criminalised because of his different sexual orientation.

As I ponder over the treatment meted to Wilde, my mind and heart goes out to the way the world treats those who are different even though they are humans just like everyone else.

We tend to discriminate against those who do not match up to what is considered normal. It is so difficult to accept people for who they are, for the gifts and attributes that they bring to the world.

Then I wonder about the many in our world who feel stigmatised, marginalised or ostracised all because of their status, station in life or lifestyle preference.

They may not necessarily suffer the same fate as Wilde, but I am familiar with many who prefer to remain closeted, keeping from people the fact that they are HIV-Aids infected, inflicted with mental illness, incapacitated by intellectual and physical disabilities or have been to prison.

Even those who are divorced or widowed prefer to avoid disclosing their status, afraid to be regarded as an oddity in life. Divorced or widowed people feel stigmatised too.

Sometimes it is heart- wrenching to journey with such people in their struggle for acceptance. Somehow they feel they do not belong to the mainstream of life despite our declaration that we regard all to be equal.

I also observe that the family seems to be one major arena where children experience the most rejection because of their differences.

Parents naturally prefer children who fit their image of what and how a child should be. They wish their children would possess qualities such as intellectual capability, good appearance and ability to perform at school.

If the children do not measure up to expectations, they are often made to feel useless, hopeless, inadequate, inferior or deficient.

They grow up feeling like they do not belong in the family because they are not like their siblings or have failed to live up to their parents’ expectations.

All too often they end up as adults with a poor sense of self-worth, feeling rejected and discriminated against.

Yet children never asked to be born and must surely have the inherent right to be accepted for who they are. This goes for all others who may be like Oscar Wilde.

If only we can acknowledge that no matter how different people may be from the rest of us, we must embrace them as people just like us.

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