Until yesterday I had forgotten what it’s like for a speaker to have an audience who acts up. From the moment I joined them, they were all over me. Literally.
It was my first day as a volunteer reader at Head Start. As I sat on the area rug with them, two of the four-year-olds climbed onto my lap. Another sat on my outstretched legs. One patted my hand while another stroked my hair while stage-whispering into my ear, “Your hair is so soft.”
Children of four have no filters. Whatever pops into their minds is verbalized. They were fascinated by the scar-tissue covering a missing chunk from my lower left leg, the remnant of a malignant melanoma mass I had removed in 1988.
They asked lots of questions: What happened to your leg? Why does it look like this? Can I touch it? Does it hurt?
I seldom think about the disfigurement anymore. It’s just part of me.
But of course, NOW I’m wondering if, when I speak in front of an audience of grown-ups, are they looking at my left leg and silently asking themselves a variation of the same questions the four-years-olds hadn’t been shy about asking? Well, I doubt if any adult is considering seeking permission to touch my scar, but still.
I’ve not considered it before, but when does the filter start to form and then harden into place?
Manners probably have an impact. When a child points to a bald man in front of him at check-out and asks, “Why doesn’t he have any hair? And why is his head so shiny?” he is likely shushed by the adult with him and told, “It’s not nice to ask questions like that.” Well, we want to be nice, don’t we?
The instructional setting of school helps to set the filter firmly in place where the rule of no talking means just that. So the lips must be zipped, and the question that was just begging to be asked has been forgotten by the time recess rolls around.
And of course there’s peer pressure. When a child says something that others her age consider inappropriate, she may be ridiculed and taunted. It doesn’t take too many of those reactions before we realize that we had better just shut up.
Actually there ARE people we wish would shut up. You know, those people who have decided their personal filter is a relic from the past. They feel free to say whatever mean-spirited words they like, offering up the excuse, “Hey, it’s a free country.”
What if we would compromise and split the filter down the middle, leaving half intact to trap inside anything that might hurt or demean another person. BUT…tear down the other half to make an opening where we feel not only encouraged but also compelled to say words that will lift another’s spirit, offer hope, or just brighten someone’s day.
Because I know there have been times when I’ve been with someone and had a positive thought pass through my brain and NOT said it aloud. That’s ridiculously selfish.
I’m determined to open up my mental space and let the positive comments flow forth.
And oh yes, if we ever meet, I promise you can touch my scar.
To my readers: What kind words have you heard this past week?