“The Ugly Duckling” is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson which goes something like this:

“A mother duck who sat on her eggs until they hatched, but one of the ducklings was different to the rest. The mother duck loved him and was very proud of him, but the other ducklings didn’t agree with her and they made fun of him day by day. The ugly duckling was very sad. Then one day he ran away and hid in the bushes and while he was swimming in the pond, he saw three large swans came towards him. He thought that the swans would attack him, but they didn’t. The swans stroked him with their bills. When the ugly duckling bent his neck to speak to them, he saw his reflection on the water. He couldn’t believe his eyes. He exclaimed that he wasn’t an ugly duckling anymore, but a beautiful swan. And finally, he with the other swans lived happily ever after together.”

It is quoted that the moral lesson of this story is that people have to accept themselves for who they truly are and that the story captures the challenges faced by those seen as “different” by society and the effort to find where they truly belong.

I also think this story has a deeper meaning as well. In the light of the recent murder of Mr George Floyd, an African American, who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes as he told them “I can’t breathe”, the deeper meaning of this story is that humans innately fear and hate difference.

They say that children can be cruel but according to clinical psychologist Camillo Zacchia, children are often completely in their own little bubbles and when they say things like he is so big and grey (about the ugly duckling) a child is simply trying to make sense of the world and has no idea yet about what is, and what is not, proper to say. The child is simply making an interesting observation completely oblivious to the impact it may have on the other person.

The ability to imagine what another person would think or feel is referred to as the theory of mind. It is this that helps us realize that another person’s mind is distinct from our own. Without an ability to appreciate another person’s feelings, elementary school children can appear cruel and cold-hearted. But while an adult can be cruel because of an actual desire to hurt, a child may act cruelly quite simply because that is the nature of a child’s mind. [1]

The truth is that people are different and there is no ‘normal’.  It is so important to engage children in a conversation about how their words and actions can cause hurt feelings and that we teach them how to accept and value others for their difference.

One of George Floyd’s last words that he uttered just before he died was to call out “mama mama”. In his most desperate moment, Mr Floyd, possibly called out to the one person he knew loved and accepted him unconditionally.

Both the Ugly Duckling story and Mr Floyd’s story highlight the importance of role modelling how to deal with difference at a very early age. For many, the process may need to begin with challenging our own biases and valuing the important roll that nurture plays in a child’s life. Ultimately, the goal is to create a more tolerant and compassionate culture for current and future generations.

I read a recent article by American biologist and author Bruce Lipton who spoke about the ‘chaos’ that is happening in the world right now as a result of the viral pandemic. According to Bruce Lipton, “The most important point we must recognise is that the current chaos is not a “random” character; it is an expression of an unfolding predetermined pattern. We are observing the collapse of the current destructive “reptilian” civilisation while simultaneously seeing the rise of the new, nurturing “mammalian” culture.” [2]

What the world desperately needs now is strong nurturing leadership. Just imagine if we could create a world where leaders such as Jacinda Adern were in charge and principles such as well being, tolerance and unity were prioritised. Its worth holding the vision so that we no longer find ourselves in a world where different is labelled “ugly” instead of being treasured and valued from the point of view of a mother’s love.

[1] https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/camillo-zacchia-phd/why-kids-can-be-cruel_b_9373230.html

[2] https://www.brucelipton.com/newsletter/think-beyond-your-genes-april-2020