Different Doesn’t Matter . . . Until it Matters

There’s a well-meaning, but very ignorant article, by Farrah Alexander at Huffington Post floating around at the moment. And like most of these articles, it appears to be inclusive and kind. It’s not. It hurts.

Tabitha over at Simply Precocious wrote a beautiful empathetic piece on why the original article was and is hurtful. Please go and read it.

Now, I could write about why dismissing the idea of giftedness is harmful. And I have previously here.

This isn’t the first or the last ignorant piece written by well-meaning but poorly informed people who think they’re doing everyone a favour by dissing on gifted people. You can read my previous responses here and here and here.

Instead I want to talk about why the idea that difference ‘doesn’t matter‘ is harmful. I see it all the time – “Everyone is different“, “Let you’re unique self shine!”. They’re lovely memes. Lots of fist-pumps and “Yeah! That’s awesome!

But it’s a rare person that actually means it. Instead, a more honest meme might be:


Be Different! But Don’t Make Me Feel Uncomfortable.

Different is uncomfortable.

‘Different’ is something you quietly ignore, if you’re ‘polite’. And well, ‘different doesn’t matter’ . . . until you don’t fit into an acceptable mould. You talk funny, you walk funny, you stare too much, or too little. You use big words and ideas. And you feel too much – tone it down, girl. You aren’t supposed to feel that way. Stop showing us your unique self. Stop talking about your kids. We don’t like it – we don’t understand. It makes us uncomfortable.

We Aren’t Kind to Different Kids

A few days ago, there was another article on how schools in Australia are locking children up in cupboards and in fenced off ‘prison-like’ areas and leaving them there. Those kids were “too different”. It was only when a group of parents banded together to ask for a parliamentary enquiry that they were taken seriously. Some of the parents are now homeschooling their kids. I don’t blame them. I am doing the same thing, for very similar reasons – though thank goodness there were no cages involved. Usually, the discrimination is more subtle.

Are You Inclusive of Disabled People? Probably Not

So you think that the environment you live in, teach in, work in is inclusive? Have a look around – if 20% of the people there aren’t disabled, then it’s not. When you organise events, if 20% of the people aren’t disabled it’s not inclusive.  And if you’re in a gifted program and at least 9-16% of the kids in it aren’t disabled, it’s not either.

Gifted Kids From All Backgrounds Need Differentiation

If you find yourself dismissing neurodiversity, or giftedness because it ‘doesn’t matter‘ then you’re not inclusive. You’re discriminating, and you’re causing harm.

If your school doesn’t have a gifted program, it’s not inclusive. You don’t differentiate for gifted kids (really differentiate, not just more of the same material)? Then you’re not inclusive. If your gifted program works just as well with the non-gifted? It’s not inclusive.  And if you only use teacher recommendations to fill your gifted programs, it’s not inclusive.

It’s easy to think a school or a workplace or a community are doing OK. All the people who show up love it. It’s ‘meeting a need‘. What is not seen are all the people who don’t show. Who hear your ignorant language and quietly decide to turn away, go elsewhere. Because they haven’t got time to wade through it. They’re tired.

You won’t see the harmed because they won’t stick around and keep getting hurt if they have any other choice.

Words Mean Nothing If not Backed Up With Well Thought-out Programs

Saying ‘Different Doesn’t Matter‘ does squat if it isn’t accompanied by a well-thought out accommodation program that listens and responds to the needs of people who are wired or built differently. It’s a nice fuzzy idea of ‘general goodness’ – but it’s also used as a band-aid to cover over that uncomfortable feeling at having to ‘deal’ with difference. “Well, it doesn’t really matter . . . we’re all a little different.”

Some of us are a lot different. And we damn well matter.

Other Responses

Also, this is not a new issue, the misperceptions on giftedness are something that the community has had to deal with for a long time. Here are some other responses to this issue:
Homeschooling2e writes Gifted: Different, Not Better
Incredible Journey of Giftedness writes Giftedness Matters

Scott Barry Kaufman comes at the idea from a more philosophical angle:  Does Giftedness Matter?

And as originally mentioned above, Simply Precocious writes An open letter to Farrah Alexander

3 Replies to “Different Doesn’t Matter . . . Until it Matters”

  1. Absolutely true. Thank you for your repeated wisdom and inclusiveness. One beautiful thing that the original post brought us is uproar. By writing her post in the way that she did we are able to recognize our true feelings and stand up to prejudice and ignorance. By rallying together with kindness and education we can change the dialogue from the repeated false lines, to truth. There are many shades of giftedness and ALL matter.

  2. Yes. Thank you. Rallying together is so important. Rallying together with kindness and empathy, understanding and listening, rather than immediately dismissing something that is not familiar is hard. And sometimes uncomfortable.

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