My favorite animal, hands down, is the hippopotamus. They are simply amazing creatures. Not many animals have been immortalized by the media for their size and appetite (hungry, hungry), as well as their graceful, free flowing movements (Fantasia). They are also the bad ass of the animal kingdom, having no predators other than man. They have many unique abilities, like being the only animal that can make a sound that can simultaneously be heard above and below water and having a body density that allows them to walk on the bottom of lakes and rivers. Of all of their fascinating traits and behaviors though, there is one that always sticks out to me, because it reminds me of an important life skill. The hide of a hippo is almost six inches thick, making it safe from attacks from potential predators such as lions. Just like their thick skin protects them from injury, we can develop a “thick skin” to defend against the negativity, criticism, and malice of others.
Growing up with a visible, physical disability and using a wheelchair has meant that my entire life I have had to endure the stares and comments of people whenever I am out in public. Even though I know that this behavior is done out of ignorance or fear, and that it is not directed at me personally, it is still difficult to deal with. It is hard not to feel self-conscious, out of place, and uncomfortable when you see people staring at you at every turn. There were several occasions when I was a kid where I would feel like such a mutant freak from the actions of others, that I was brought to tears. In order to be able to lead a full life and experience the world, it was imperative that I develop a “thick skin” in regards to the way people react to my disability. Even though it took me a long time, quite a few tears, and a lot of work, eventually I was able to develop the skills to fend off these attacks on my mind and emotions.
If you are in public schools and have any kind of disability, you are considered special education. Even though I was never in a special education classroom and was valedictorian of my class, for thirteen years I was considered a special education student because of my physical limitations. Kids are cruel, and they will prey upon any other kids who are different or weaker than them. One of these young predators favorite targets are special education students. A lot of these children are perfect targets, since they are often mentally slow and unable to defend themselves. Since in school you are judged by the company you keep, being labeled a special education student was like putting a “kick me” sign on my back. By having to ride the “short bus,” sit with the special education class at school functions, and being included in special education field trips, I was subject to the same abuse as the other special education students, even though I never set foot in their classroom.
While the actions of other children were hard to take, the behavior of other adults was much harder to cope with. As brutally cruel as my peers and classmates could be, since they were young and didn’t know any better, I could more easily fend off their attacks. When adults, who you are taught to respect as a child, are staring and pointing at you, it is much more difficult to dismiss their behavior. The toughest thing to deal with was when an adult would speak to me as if I was mentally challenged. I would get so frustrated when people would come up to me like I have the brain of a 5 year old, and many would even continue to do so after I had spoken and illustrated that I was in no way mentally impaired. I would get so angry and frustrated in these situations, and it took many years before I was able to develop a “thick skin” to get through one of these encounters without it ruining my entire day.
It was because of the emotional pain caused by the actions of the people around me that I was able to develop the “thick skin” that has allowed me to become a happy, functional member of society. As I matured into a teenager and young adult, I knew that if I had any hope of leading a “normal,” independent life, that I would have to learn to ignore and manage the ignorant actions of the people that I encounter out in the world. So, I did a lot of reading, reflecting, and thinking about why people react the way they do to my disability. Through all of this mental work, I was eventually able to realize that the way people react says way more about them than about me. I realized that anyone who is rude and ignorant enough to react in a negative way is not someone whose opinion I should care about. Why would I let someone like that affect how I feel about myself? I know who I am and what I can do, and the actions of some uneducated stranger should not change that. Letting their uninformed reaction influence my thinking would be like going to a bus driver for advice on astrophysics. I would not trust the bus driver, so why would I trust these individuals? This realization helped me to develop the “thick skin” to ignore the way people treat me, which in turn has allowed me to live a happy, successful life.
While you may not have a physical disability, we all have things that we feel self-conscious about when people notice them. Maybe it is a large, conspicuous birth mark or a speech impediment, but we all have these insecurities. In order to live the full, happy life you deserve, you need to take a lesson from the hippo and develop a “thick skin.” Remind yourself that the way people react says a lot more about them than it does about you. By developing and maintaining this “thick skin,” the hurtful reactions of others will bounce off of you like bullets off Superman. Why would you let a stranger determine how you feel about yourself? Remember how great you are and use that self-confidence to build your “thick skin.” You will get so much more out of life and feel much better about yourself, if you are able to ignore the uninformed actions of others. Just like the hippo, your “thick skin” will allow to live a happy, carefree life.