It’s easy to think of yourself as a person with a very high level of acceptance of other people. That’s until you meet someone who brings out your hidden prejudices.

This happened to me on my son’s 8th birthday where I learnt a powerful lesson on acceptance from children. My son had invited over 30 children for his birthday party and they all came.

I was working that morning and had to go buy more snacks and then rush home to cook a real meal for the grownup visitors. My son had requested that I make pilau for the grownups and this would take time.

When the kids arrived for the party, I had a major and unexpected challenge to contend with. We had a huge 17-year old gate-crasher whom I feared. I’d never had a confrontation with him but I feared him nonetheless.

This boy had a development challenge and although his body was already that of a man, his mind was still at the level of a child. I’m not an expert, but from watching him, I always felt like he was like a 3-year old going through the terrible 3’s while trapped in the body of a man. I’m sure this was frustrating to him and his family.

The reason why I feared this boy was because I had watched him harass children and women within the estate. For example, he had a habit of confronting women as they parked their cars. He would approach the car and try to get into the car from the woman’s side, thereby pushing the woman back into the car.

I had also seen him chase kids around and the kids would run away screaming. One day I watched him chase a little girl and she almost fell down the stairs as she ran. Luckily, her dad was nearby and he saved her, but this boy was not fazed. He still followed the girl and her dad to their door!

Finally, he would make noises that probably meant something in terms of conversation, but I hadn’t gotten someone who understood what he was saying. Unfortunately, people would get scared and run away when he made these noises and this made him more aggressive.

So you can imagine my horror when my fears came true and my son walked in followed by none other than this boy-man! To say that I was in shock does not come minutely close to what I felt. I watched a movie run through my mind and saw unimaginable disasters happening in my living room, right in front of my eyes.

I had over 30 children in the room! How was I going to get this boy out of my house safely?

I considered sending the watchmen to call his parents, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to get involved in all that. So I sent a prayer to God as I tried to work a way out.

What happened next shocked me into silence.

I watched my 8-year old son interact with this boy in a way that amazed and humbled me. While no one seemed to make sense of what this boy was saying, my son told him to sit down and showed him where he was to sit.

The boy removed his shoes and sat on the edge of the carpet. It was as if he was scared of sitting on the sofa as he’d been shown by my son.

From that moment on, my son would give him instructions on what to do and what not to do. My son seemed to understand that he was dealing with a child and not a grown-up. So he treated this boy the same way I would have treated a precocious 3-year old!

I was truly amazed. More so because my children and some of their friends had also panicked when they saw this boy in the house and some had asked me (the real chicken herself) to throw him out.

The party lasted about two hours and not once did this boy do anything out of hand. He was polite and seemed to enjoy himself all through. Other than the noises he made when he wanted to communicate with someone, he was just one more kid enjoying himself. All he needed was acceptance from us.

Once the other children saw that the birthday boy had things in control, they too started treating this boy differently. They watched cartoons together, ate snacks, sang birthday songs, played, and then left on a sugar high.

And it didn’t stop there because they continued playing with him outside after the party, something I had never seen before.

It was interesting watching the kids shift from being scared of him to making him a part of the crowd. I think my son’s acceptance of him allowed them to stop fearing him.

Later that evening, I got to know why he sticks to cars like glue. Apparently he loves taking rides in cars, but rarely gets a chance to. Some neighbours understood this and they’d take him for a 5-minute ride and then bring him back.

A few days later, my son informed me that this boy stopped another child from bullying my son’s friend. He stopped the bully by playfully choking him, so the bully let go of the other boy.

The children also learnt that when he chases kids, he does so thinking that they’re playing with him. So the kids see him and run, and he runs after them thinking it’s a game. This makes kids run faster thinking they are in danger…and on it goes.

The challenge then was getting him to realize that his strength was greater than the smaller children’s and it was easy for him to hurt them. We moved from this estate before I could figure this out.

Of late, I’ve been thinking about this lesson in acceptance that I learnt from the children. My reflections made me realize that there are many instances when I’ve judged people wrongly and refused to accept them. This was simply because I was viewing them using my lens, which is coloured by my personal views of life and a lot of unconfirmed fears.

The birthday experience was a true eye-opener for me and one that I keep going back to more than four years later.

This was a lesson to be more accepting of people who are ‘different’ from what I’m used to. It’s also a lesson not to give in to my fears simply because I don’t understand what’s going on.

Take time to appreciate the people around you and accept the ones that do not seem ‘normal’ as per your standards. Unless you have a reason to worry, give people a chance to be themselves before ruling them out.

That is today’s lesson in life.

Have you had an experience that proved that your level of acceptance wasn’t as high as you previously thought? What happened and how did you handle it?
I’d love to hear from you so please share your experience or thoughts in the Comments below.

(Image credit Unsplash)

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