This post was originally written for The People Project
I recently heard someone make an incredibly foolish and arguably dangerous generalization. By way of his or her statement, this person wished to imply that people with learning difficulties are low achievers.
In response, I’d like to draw your attention to the following individuals: Daniel Radcliffe, who is dyspraxic, Richard Branson who is dyslexic, Agatha Christie who was dysgraphic, and Albert Einstein who may have suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome.
Would you consider any of these people to be low achievers?
I think you would agree that they are anything but!
Why do I get so angry when these generalizations are made? Surely they’re not doing any harm?
But, they are. They’re doing major damage to the self-esteem and self-worth of those who are being branded as “low achievers.”
These days, it appears that a large proportion of people hold the view that there is one route to learning, and one way only. If an individual doesn’t fit into that box, then he or she becomes subject to the judgment of people who cannot understand that there might, in fact, be another way.
To quote Albert Einstein: “Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it is stupid.”
In my experience, people who are learning disabled are faced with negativity by the majority of people who do not or choose not to understand what this might mean. This can lead to the development of lifelong self-doubt and low self- esteem on the part of the individual who is learning disabled. The individual may feel inadequate, and may continue to believe that he or she is never achieving enough, when in fact, the contrary may be the case. Often, people with learning difficulties or disabilities do not even recognize when they have achieved something. Even if people tell them that they have done well, it’s unlikely to sink in.
Or at least, that has been my own personal experience.
In the past, I have been referred to as a “low achiever.” This has really affected my sense of self-confidence. There was one incident in the past, when I was referred to as an “imbecile” by a teacher, in front of my class. It was an incredibly humiliating experience.
I think people in positions of authority can be very damaging, especially when they refer to teens as “low achievers.” It's a little like playing with fire. People generally have respect for those in authority, therefore their opinions can be incredibly important and are more likely to be accepted at face value. As such, I think that such behaviour can have long term, detrimental effects on the person who is labeled a low-achiever – effects that may include anxiety, depression, and even suicide.
Telling people that they are low achievers can go one of two ways:
1. They will become increasingly determined to achieve things, just to prove you wrong or to win your approval. I think that this in itself can be damaging, leading to increased anxiety, overwork, and lack of sleep, leaving the so-called low achiever feeling run-down and depressed.
2. They will stop trying. If you tell people enough times that they are low achievers, they may very well start to believe you. They may begin to believe that they quite simply can’t achieve anything. Again, this can be dangerous, leading to low morale, low self-esteem, and a severe lack of self-worth.
So before you call someone a low achiever, ask yourself why you’re doing it.
Is it perhaps a reflection of how YOU feel about yourself and your achievements, or, potentially, the lack thereof?
*If you’ve been bullied into believing that you’re a low achiever, remember that it’s okay to feel upset or hurt. You can sit down and cry – but at some stage, you must get up, wipe those tears, and start walking again. If they get you down, don’t let them keep you down.