Note for Inteleksi readers: As part of a class assignment, our students were encouraged to watch the Emmy Award-winning biopic ‘Temple Grandin’. It is a delightful story of a young woman named Temple Grandin, who, despite the challenges of autism, has transformed the humane handling of animals in the cattle industry. She inspires millions, especially those with autistic loved ones.
We then authored letters, cards or videos that we want to send to the now Prof Temple Grandin of Colorado State University, to share what we’ve learned from her. I chose to write an open letter so that more people will know her remarkable story:
Dear Temple Grandin,
I know that you think in pictures. There is a hilarious scene in the movie where you hear ‘animal husbandry’ for the first time, and your mind projected an image of a married cow with a human husband in front of a chapel.
So, I wish I can draw this letter for you. But I am rubbish at drawing; quite your opposite, I think in language and abstract ideas. But I will try my best to slip in metaphorical images into the words, so you can enjoy reading this letter as much as I did writing it.
From your story, I’ve learned three lessons:
Lesson 1: Celebrate the colours of the flowers
I’ve learned how important it is to appreciate how different everyone is, and how our education should reflect that diversity.
The key is not to make everyone to ‘score an A’ in solving the algebraic value of X, or performing a scientific experiment, or playing a musical instrument. The key is to allow everyone — after an honest, dedicated effort — to ‘fail’ at certain subjects.
And then, instead of looking at it as something dreadful, we should see it as data points that recommend a change of direction. Build a career path where we’ll spend less time on things we are weak at, and more on those that are natural to us.
Our schools and workplaces will be more beautiful as we become better at designing systems that widen the space for assortments of intelligence. It allows people to learn and contribute divergently from a standard expectation.
It will become more productive too, as less time and resources will be spent on forcing people to be someone they’re not, or do things that alienate who they are.
I’ve learned from you that we should celebrate all different kinds of minds, that we should allow for different colours of flowers to grow in the garden.
Lesson 2: Love the ones who sparked the fire
In a way, everyone who is inspired by you owe it as much to William Carlock, your science teacher. Instead of seeing you as a lost cause, Carlock took an incredible effort to spark your interest in science, especially through the Ames Room illusion.
We also owe it to your family for resisting the ‘expert advice’ to institutionalise you, and for being patient in dealing with your tantrums and screamings as a child. They never knew that when they tipped over that domino of compassion, it led to a whole chain of wonderful effects, which can be felt even by students who are thousands of miles away in Malaysia.
I’ve learned that when we celebrate great achievers, we should never forget the great nameless people behind them: the family, school teachers, coaches, mentors; the warriors of love that lit the fire.
Lesson 3: Walk through the doors
In the movie, you are shown to visualise your challenges as doors. If you muster enough courage to enter it, it opens a whole new world of opportunities.
I love the scenes where you struggled to enter the automatic sliding door at a shop. Your mind pictured it as a terrifying guillotine. Eventually, you entered it and met someone who helped you create a breakthrough in your career. It is a powerful symbolism that the movie portrays brilliantly.
We all have certain things that profoundly scare us. We sometimes feel alone, because others don’t get why we are so afraid.
One of yours that I share is the difficulty to be social and speaking in front of others. Since I know how much I have worked on it in my own life, I can truly appreciate how much harder you must have worked on yours.
And there were things that you fought that are genuinely frightening: dealing with existing systems that resist changes; dealing with difficult people, like those chauvinistic cattle workers who bullied you.
I’ve learned from you that we need courage to go through the doors, to seize opportunities in life, even when we are afraid. And when we do, miraculous coincidences tend to happen.
I pray that your story will inspire more ‘Temple Grandins’ in the world. Thank you so much for your bravery, your love towards the animals, and your beautiful soul.