If only I had asked him to land the plane next to the kitchen sink 10 minutes ago.
My son just finished off a messy meal, but he was still wearing part of it on his hands. He was moving from chair to chair to bench at the kitchen table. Then, he proceeded to walk circles around the kitchen while stopping off at various points — the window, the island, the refrigerator. His arms were outstretched, and he was making airplane sound effects that were nearly as demonstrative as his actions.
Meanwhile, I had asked him half a dozen times to come to the sink so we could wash his hands.
The selectivity with which a 2-year-old can use his ears is astounding.
I stopped myself from yelling out of frustration.
Instead, I lowered my voice and calmly asked if the pilot could land the plane at the sink for a quick clean before his next takeoff.
He ran right over to me. We painlessly cleaned him up, and he propelled his way out of the kitchen.
Does my son need to learn to respond respectfully and right away without me asking multiple times? Yes, he does.
That was one of the lessons I took away.
But I’ll be honest, I already knew that. And we’re already working on it. I’d talk with him later about his lack of obedience to a simple ask.
The more eye-opening lesson I learned in that moment was the power of language. Specifically, in being willing and able to speak the language of whomever it is that I’m speaking to.
For 10 minutes, my
son was an airplane pilot. And it wasn’t until I spoke to him like a pilot that he was willing to listen.
How often do we speak to people in our language, not theirs? And then become frustrated at our inability to connect.
We speak condescendingly to children and wonder why they don’t act more grown up.
We speak jargon to common customers and shake our heads at their lack of understanding.
We speak with our own sayings in our own slang using our own inside jokes and wonder why others don’t feel welcomed.
Our lack of skill — but let’s be honest, maybe just our lack of empathy — in being unwilling to bend toward communication others can easily understand often makes for miscommunication or missed connection.
I lived overseas for nine years. I was the one who had to ask others to slow down. I was the one who stared blankly when others spoke in common conversation. I was the one who had to motion with my hands or shrug in defeat with my shoulders. I had the weird accent. I fumbled my way through the native language.
It has given me a deep appreciation for language. Specifically, for anyone who is willing and kind enough to speak my language.
I’ve found you don’t need to be a foreigner for language to make you feel left out. And you don’t need to be bilingual to use language to make others feel included. Our words can make others feel welcomed or unwanted. It’s all in how we choose to use them.
Can we speak to others’ interests? If not, can we at least ask questions about theirs?
Can we speak in analogies that relate to our listener and not just our own experiences?
Can we speak in words that others understand?
Can we speak with words that make them feel valued?
Language is a powerful tool by which we can enter another’s world. Even if it’s just a 2-year-old acting as an airplane pilot.
Sometimes our best choice isn’t what will make us look smartest, right or best. Sometimes our best choice is to simply choose the kind of language that will be understood by the one who’s listening.
column appears Wednesdays. She can be reached