When we are first born into the world, we enter it free from prejudice and insecurity. We are unaware and unacquainted with what society and the people around us will come to think that we should be, do, think, and look like. We begin our lives in this perfect state of wellbeing, free from the encumbrances of judgement and expectation.
I lived in this cocoon like world until I started primary school. It was at primary school that I learned that things in the outside world were different.
Along with my ABCs, one lesson that I quickly learned was that distinguishable differences between yourself and others were not a good thing.
In my case, a child saying, "My mummy thinks you are fat" was the start of a trend of opinion that ostracized me as a shy but happy five year old from the rest of the class. After previously playing happily with my class, this only started to happen after the parents of my fellow pupils started to look around the schoolyard and make comments.
As a result of not fitting into the visual the other parents wanted, they then filtered down to their children and as a result, their view of me was directly altered.
It did not just happen to me.
Another little girl learned that she was, in their eyes, ugly. A little boy with a growth disorder learned that he was not just smaller than the other children, there was something "wrong" with him and therefore was a prime bullying target. His parents told him that he was special; it was the outside world that decided for him that he was not.
By the time a child reaches secondary school, they have begun to learn the rules that will help them to survive their time at school. Fitting in with everyone else is encouraged and the child is advised not to give people a reason to pick on them. If you are fat, lose weight; if you are shy, be more outgoing; if you are loud, be quieter; if you look different, try to blend in; if your interests are more niche, be more mainstream.
Although these rules are bandied around by many as aides to navigate your school life, what they actually accomplish is suppressing your individuality, which can have a knock on effect throughout your life. Being told that essentially you are not good enough the way you are and that you need to change as a person in order to fit into society's decreed mold is damaging and can cause lasting consequences.
For me, it was only many years later that I found the confidence to ignore the judgements about how I looked and the restrictions on my personality that I had become so accustomed to. Allowing myself to accept my body, find my voice, state my opinions without fear of not fitting in with the group and be an unapologetic version of myself.
These lessons and rules that start off being taught by our parents, then our peers and society around us, are what shape our adult life and form our fundamental beliefs. These lessons are at the core of prejudice and bigotry.
The saying goes that "From the mouths of babes comes the truth". If you put four toddlers in the room they do not makes decisions of whom to play with based on race, religion or what they look like. They just play happily together. They simply take people as they find them, until they are trained by us to do otherwise. We could all learn lessons from this.