Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Just words

It has been an incredible summer--incredible in so many ways that words for it elude me at the moment.  So I'm not going to talk about that at all for the moment.

I'm going to talk about words--words that shape us and others, that are spoken and listened to or ignored, that are validated or invalidated thus leaving us feeling validated or invalidated.

Now, I think about words all the time because I just always have.  My little one shares my passion for words and often expresses himself with vigor.

"Give it to me now, Mommy," he growled last spring.

"I have no intention of giving it to you," I answered calmly.

"Then I have no intention of obeying," he retorted.  Well.  He's honest.

And I am more likely to go along with him because of his calm, articulate nature.  That's the way I'm trained.  Say it calmly.  Say it when I'm listening.  Make me laugh.

Unlike when the big one, from the back of the car, wailed, "SHU-U-U-T    U-U-U-P!"

I was likely to throw out, "Don't scream at us," but our TSS at the time jumped in and explained calmly and in no hurry exactly why she wasn't going to be quiet, and, beaten to the punch, I was forced to ponder my own gut reaction.

Why was I not listening to my son?  He was, in fact, telling me what he needed: quiet, a pause in the activity.  Sure, we needed to work on the delivery, but to be honest, I suspected that he had been telling us again and again and we simply weren't listening.  Which, of course, brings me to the insightful comment of one of my husband's relatives.

"I was discussing something I was really upset about with my husband," she related.  "And I swore.  And he stopped me and responded, 'Let's not swear at each other, okay? Can we agree not to swear at each other?'  'Okay,' I answered. 'But can you let me finish my point?'"

And that's exactly the issue I have been dancing around for a long time:  poor delivery does not equal an invalid point.

I decided to teach English as a Foreign Language because I truly believe that it contributes to world peace.  I know.  Blind optimism.  Idealist.  But I do believe that much of what I have helped to edit, ways that I have helped to teach, and systems that I have tried to lay bare so that others can traverse them have indeed helped.

But I am caught again and again by a very simple fact.  We only hear what we want to.  We choose to interpret things in the way that best fits our view of the world (regardless of what that view is), and we throw out the evidence that challenges our view.  And when people have come to us to object, like my son, they are hard pressed.

"I don't want to," he had said as I packed him into the car.

"Too bad," I had said and continued talking.

"Please be quiet.  I don't want to talk about this," he had elaborated.

"Tough," I had said, hardly taking a breath.

"SHU-U-U-T    U-U-U-P!"

Maybe if I had paused a little earlier to listen, we wouldn't have gotten there.  But his point was no less valid because he screamed it.  In fact, he hadn't started by screaming it.  He had started calmly.

It makes me wonder about all those others we cut off because we don't like their tone or say they have taken things into their own hands.  Did they start that way?  Am I punishing them because they have spoken inappropriately, or did we come to this situation because I couldn't be bothered to listen?

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