Exceptions don't define you

Shel Silverstein wrote a poem called The Zebra Question.

It's one of those short somewhat comical pieces one hears recited at an elementary school speech arts competition. It's about a child who asks a zebra whether he is "black with white stripes" or "white with black stripes."

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In this poem, the zebra is more than capable of holding a conversation, and it replies somewhat sassily with an exhaustive list of questions: "Are you good with bad habits? Or are you bad with good habits? Are you noisy with quiet times? Or quiet with noisy times? Are you happy with some sad days? Or are you sad with some happy days? Are you neat with some sloppy ways? Or are you sloppy with some neat ways?"

To be honest, the first time I heard this poem in elementary school, I found it extremely tiresome and repetitive.

Silverstein had simply compiled a list of opposite descriptions and proceeded to compound them into a poem, he then proceeded to sell it to children.

I recently stumbled across this poem again, and it took on a new significance.

The concept of identifying our norm and our exception can be important in maintaining confidence and preventing depression.

Allow me to elaborate from a teenage perspective.

It's currently finals season at university. This means that most people are slightly more tightly strung, and are juggling the added pressure of papers, imminent final exams, and last minute studying. Test results come back and sometimes the mark that stains the top of the page is low enough to burn a hole through the stomach.

One test and suddenly questions of my future, my identity, my self-worth flood my mind and make me question every life choice I ever made. Sound familiar?

It took this poem to recognize that everyone experiences successes and failures, joy and sorrow, generosity and selfishness to some extent. And we don't have to feel discouraged when those moments of failure make an appearance in our lives. It doesn't decrease our value.

They are merely the exceptions that everyone is (at least to some degree) familiar with. It doesn't define who you are. It doesn't matter whether you're a perfectionist or not. Bumps and falls along the way teach you the skill of climbing back onto your feet.

Our effort is obviously necessary. We have to want to be good students - curious, organized and disciplined. We have to want to be loyal friends. So if we know the commitment and desire is there, we can be sure the "bad habits," "sad days" and "sloppy ways" are definitely not here to stay.

Anna Toth is a J.N. Burnett graduate and currently in her first year at UBC.

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