“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
― Henry David Thoreau
September is Craniofacial Acceptance Month. Amidst the overabundance of so-called “awareness” months and other initiatives to raise consciousness of the differences and the challenges faced by so many, there is something truly heartening about taking some time to promote not awareness, as is the usual case, but actual ACCEPTANCE.
At first consideration, there may seem to be little difference between the two. But in truth, there is a vast and important distinction between awareness and acceptance— one that makes a world of difference to the patients and the families that we serve. In simple terms, awareness is defined as merely knowing that something exists. Acceptance, on the other hand, denotes an essence of approval, of empathy, and of acknowledgment of another’s worth. Whereas awareness focuses on craniofacial differences, acceptance focuses on the unique and wonderful people living with a craniofacial difference.
Awareness comes from simply knowing. Acceptance demands understanding. One can be aware from a distance: Wear a ribbon. Apply a bumper decal. Make a donation. But one cannot accept from a distance: To accept is to embrace.
Awareness is certainly a start. Far too many are simply unaware of the prevalence and of the impact of craniofacial differences. But awareness is easy. It requires little investment of the mind or of the heart. Acceptance is more demanding. The understanding that resides at its core requires an element of courage and vulnerability and comes only from deliberately reaching within oneself, from overcoming one’s own fears and prejudices, and from positively relating to others within the context of one’s values. To become aware is to say, “I now recognize that you exist.” To accept is to say, “You are a part of my life.” Awareness dwells with that part of our mind devoted to perception. Acceptance, from that part of or heart devoted to love.
The road from awareness to understanding is long and frequently demanding. It requires hard work to move from merely recognizing problems to solving them and, ultimately, to rising far above them. It requires a certain level of faith and understanding to move from a place of awareness, wherein difference is cast as difficulty and anomaly as tragedy to a place of acceptance, wherein beauty is seen in difference and triumph recognized in rarity.
In awareness, differences are not just seen but are seen as beautiful. Our collective purpose is to now work toward a September when we no longer simply accept differences, but whole heartedly celebrate them!