Different, not less

I spoke recently of a movie that caught my eye the other day which is well worth the watch – “Temple Grandin” starring Claire Danes as the title character with Julia Ormand, David Strathairn and Catherine O’Hara in key roles. It is a true story of Grandin who overcame her autism to get a Ph.D and become one of the foremost designers of cattle management systems. It is well worth the watch, but please pull out the Kleenex, especially when she first speaks up for autistic kids with her mother beside her.

A key moment in the movie is when her mother, played by Ormond is trying to find a high school that will help her daughter navigate a world with autism. To her credit, her mother defied those who said she needed to institutionalize her daughter back in the 1960s. A science teacher at the prospective school, played by Strathairn, hurried out to convince Ormond to stay as she was leaving with her daughter. He said, Temple is “different, not less.” Grandin had a brilliant mind, but understood better through visualization. She could see things we could not.

“Different, not less.” The line is so powerful, Grandin uses it later as she speaks to searching-for-answers parents of autistic kids. It reminds me of a similar line in a movie about a fictitious band from the 1960s, “Eddie and the Cruisers.” Michael Pare plays Eddie, the lead singer and driving force behind the band. He looks like a “cruiser,” but is well-read and intelligent. He drafts into the band an English major played by Tom Berenger, whom they call “Wordman” because of his profound lyrics.

During the movie as they are playing a college campus, Eddie tells Wordman these people are not like them. They are different. Wordman innocently replies, “they are no better than we are.” Eddie corrected him saying “I said different, not better.” Given the reference, this comment is the same as the above title and equally powerful.

We are different. It would be rather boring if we all thought, learned and said the same things. While we may be different, we are no better or worse than the next person. Grandin designed a system that is now used in over 50% of the cattle business, but she was laughed at because she was a woman and autistic. Her simple questions were pertinent, yet ignored. Her autism allowed her to see what the cattle sees and she factored that in her designs.

As for Eddie, we should always be careful with our first impressions. People dress differently, look differently, and act differently. Yet, Eddie was a deep thinker and knew literature. We are all different, but we have the same rights, responsibilities and need to be heard. My rights are no more important than yours and vice versa.

Both of these movies are worth the watch. They each will help us appreciate what others go through. Different, not less. And, not better either.