Alright…so go with me on this.
When we are just little babies, we obviously don’t know words. So…our parents escort us into the world of words by pointing at a variety of objects and naming them for us.
“Look at this Molly. This is a chair.” The dutiful parent points to the chair and says the word “chair” several times over and over.
Eventually, a child begins to repeat the word (or something close to it) and the power of words now becomes one of many ways we communicate within the human context.
Words are wonderful. They allow us to share our thoughts with one another. I can visually see something in my mind’s eye and then share that image with you through words. “Remember Helen, when we laughed so hard at that conference that I nearly had soda come out of my nose?” (Nice visual, uh?) Shoot, even now as I write I can start to feel the giggle come up within me.
Words are also very powerful. They carry a lot of energy. When I say the words “a mother” a whole spectrum of additional words as well as images can come up…as varied possibly as there are people in the world. So take a minute. Say out loud the words you associate with the words “a mother.” Perhaps jot them down on a piece of paper.
To demonstrate how powerful words can be, now say “My Mother” and see what words come up. If you are going with me on this little journey, write the words down.
Now look at the difference.
Before we learned words, objects carried very little meaning. Objects just were things with no label.
Somewhere around the age of 3, we begin to identify with two of the most powerful words we will ever encounter in our entire lives. Boy and Girl.
What got me thinking about all this was something I saw a few days ago while waiting at the airport departure gate for a plane ride home. A woman was there with her two five year old twins. One was a boy and the other was a girl. The boy was dressed in saggy jeans, a t-shirt and some brown coyboy boots. The girl was dressed in a pink frock and was sporting a HUGE pink bow on her head. The bow was as big as her head actually.
Well, as anyone who knows me well knows, if there are kids around I am just naturally attracted to them (and they to me.) Before you know it, the three of us were engaged in a pretty serious conversation about clouds and how much fun it is to fly right through the middle of them.
As i talked with them, I also carried on a bit of a private conversation in my own head. When we were initially getting to know one another, I found myself automatically conversing with Addy about her big pink bow and how pretty it was.
“Wow! Your bow is so pretty. I really like it!”
With Sam, I never engaged him at all in regards to his clothing. We talked about other “stuff” and while I also talked about all that fabulous “stuff” with Addy, my initial “entry” into conversing with her was over that big bow on top of her amazing five year old brain.
At Girls on the Run events I never comment on a girl’s appearance or relate to her in that realm much at all. She may bring it up (as in the fabulous tutu I was presented this past week in Arkansas), but I typically don’t stay in that space for very long! We always converse on the “stuff” of their lives…their fave Girls on the Run lesson; how they felt during the Girls on the Run 5k; what gifts and talents they possess; where their joy comes from…really big stuff as well as the big REAL stuff.
Honing in on someone’s appearance is an easy way to engage…not only with little girls but also with other women. We do it all the time.
“Wow you look like you may have lost some weight.”
“Love those shoes.”
“Great haircut. It really frames your face nicely.”
“You look so much better than last time I saw you. I’m glad you are feeling better.”
I realize that we are all just trying to be nice, conversational and friendly–and it is that friendliness and approachability which so wonderfully connect us, one to another; but I wonder if we aren’t somehow doing a disservice to start with appearance. I’m in no way suggesting that wearing a big pink bow, wanting to look great, wear a sassy pair of shoes and get the best haircut possible is the negative here. Quite the opposite. Sometimes, adorning ourselves with clothes that we feel express or bring out something about who we are is fun…and is one awesome gift of being human, but I do think that maybe leaning first into something beneath the appearance connection might be a good place to start with someone, especially little girls…little girls who are trying to make their first steps on the path toward womanhood.
At Girls on the Run events, after I’ve introduced myself to a girl in the program, one of my favorite conversation starters goes like this: “Well Addy. Nice to meet ya. So girl…tell me something about you. Something I need to know.”
The answers I get are as varied as the little girl who answers me, but do you know, not once has the content of what a little girl shared with me been rooted in anything to do with her appearance. It’s always about what they like to do, their favorite sport or book, or some other remarkable trait that embodies more of the BIG who of who they are, rather than anything to do with how they look.
This morning, I was going for a solo ride on a spin bike at my local gym, when Mary, a good fried of mine, walked over. We started talking about a number of interesting topics, but somewhere in there she shared with me that she was 61.
“61!” I responded. ”Well gosh, you certainly don’t look 61.” I said this with as much enthusiasm as I might have felt winning the Lottery.
But the reality is this. Mary IS 61…and my overly enthusiastic response certainly suggests that there is a normal way a 61 year old looks and she isn’t it…and rooted even more deeply into my exclamative remark is the deeper core belief that “Wow Mary. You don’t look 61 and isn’t that awesome. Who would want to look 61 when they are actually 61. Because after all we all want to look younger than we actually are!”
Now…I’m in no way suggesting that looking young, being youthful or feeling young are things that we should avoid or criticize ourselves for desiring…but I’m back to wondering if there might be another way for me to connect with women outside of the “age” and “appearance” conversation.
I don’t know, but I’m going to give it try.
I’m going to see if I can be more aware of the words I use. And try to set my radar for times I could use words which see to and speak to the spirit, courage, strength, gifts and talents of someone as opposed to how all that fabulosity shows up physically.
I figure now is as good a time as any to start. So, come on now…why don’t you tell me something I need to know about you.