1 Akile

Every Person Is Unique Essays

Human beings do not like to think of themselves as animals. It is thus with decidedly mixed feelings that we regard the frequent reports that activities once thought to be uniquely human are also performed by other species: chimpanzees who make and use tools, parrots who use language, ants who teach. Is there anything left?

You might think that human beings at least enjoy the advantage of being more generally intelligent. To test this idea, my colleagues and I recently administered an array of cognitive tests — the equivalent of nonverbal I.Q. tests — to adult chimpanzees and orangutans (two of our closest primate relatives) and to 2-year-old human children. As it turned out, the children were not more skillful overall. They performed about the same as the apes on the tests that measured how well they understood the physical world of space, quantities and causality. The children performed better only on tests that measured social skills: social learning, communicating and reading the intentions of others.

But such social gifts make all the difference. Imagine a child born alone on a desert island and somehow magically kept alive. What would this child’s cognitive skills look like as an adult — with no one to teach her, no one to imitate, no pre-existing tools, no spoken or written language? She would certainly possess basic skills for dealing with the physical world, but they would not be particularly impressive. She would not invent for herself English, or Arabic numerals, or metal knives, or money. These are the products of collective cognition; they were created by human beings, in effect, putting their heads together.

When you look at apes and children in situations requiring them to put their heads together, a subtle but significant difference emerges. We have observed that children, but not chimpanzees, expect and even demand that others who have committed themselves to a joint activity stay involved and not shirk their duties. When children want to opt out of an activity, they recognize the existence of an obligation to help the group — they know that they must, in their own way, “take leave” to make amends. Humans structure their collaborative actions with joint goals and shared commitments.

Another subtle but crucial difference can be seen in communication. The great apes — chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans — communicate almost exclusively for the purpose of getting others to do what they want. Human infants, in addition, gesture and talk in order to share information with others — they want to be helpful. They also share their emotions and attitudes freely — as when an infant points to a passing bird for its mother and squeals with glee. This unprompted sharing of information and attitudes can be seen as a forerunner of adult gossip, which ensures that members of a group can pool their knowledge and know who is or is not behaving cooperatively. The free sharing of information also creates the possibility of pedagogy — in which adults impart information by telling and showing, and children trust and use this information with confidence. Our nearest primate relatives do not teach and learn in this manner.

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Fourteen-year-old Joshua Yuchasz is a high school freshman in Milford, Mich. He plays in his school's concert band and on its football team. In addition to Godzilla, Yuchasz likes other reptiles, including Bubba, his pet red-tailed boa constrictor. Photo courtesy of Randee Yuchasz hide caption

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Photo courtesy of Randee Yuchasz

What if everyone in the world was exactly alike? What if everyone talked the same, acted the same, listened to the same music and watched the same TV programs? The world would be extremely dull!

I believe it's important to accept people for who they are.

Differences are important and they should be respected. For example, many important people throughout history were considered different, such as Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Harriet Tubman, Peter Tchaikovsky and Abraham Lincoln. They did great things, but some people thought they were weird because they had strong feelings about something. I can relate to these people because I've been in that situation before, many times.

It all started in elementary school when I realized that I wasn't like everyone else. My mom says that I have a tendency of obsessing on certain subjects. Unfortunately, these subjects don't interest other kids my age and they really don't interest my teachers. In fact, my kindergarten teacher said she would scream if I mentioned snakes or lizards one more time while she was teaching the days of the week. I would get in trouble for not paying attention — and the teasing began.

In third grade, my teacher informed me that I have Asperger's Syndrome. I said, "So what? Do you know that Godzilla's suit weighs 188 pounds?"

Later, I asked my mom, "What is Asperger's Syndrome? Am I gonna die?" She said that it's like having blinders on, and that I can only see one thing at a time, and that it's hard to focus on other things. Like I would tell anyone and everyone that would listen about Godzilla because my big obsession was, and still is, Godzilla — not a real popular subject with the middle school crowd, and so the teasing continues.

I might be different because I have different interests than other teenagers, but that doesn't give them the right to be so mean and cruel to me. Kids at Oak Valley make fun of me for liking what I like the most.

People also make fun of me for knowing facts about volcanoes, whales, tornadoes and many other scientific things. My mom says that she has been able to answer many questions on Jeopardy! just by listening to what I have to say, but I've even been ridiculed for being smart.

Maybe someday I'll become a gene engineer and create the real Godzilla. I can dream, can't I?

Sometimes I wish I were like everyone else, but not really. Because I believe people should be respected for being different because we're all different in our own ways. This I believe.

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