Did you ever play the game “telephone” when you were a kid? I remember playing that game so many times in school. All the kids would line up, and the first kid would whisper to the kid next to them a simple sentence like..”My dog has brown fur”. Then that kid would have to repeat what they heard to the next kid, and so on and so on, until the very last kid would say out loud what they heard. The results were always so funny because “my dog has brown fur” would turn into something like “my mom wears gowns to work”. I started thinking about this game because recently I had an experience where what I said to someone was received not at all as I meant it. My intention was lost in translation.
Oh Lord, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
Intention can be a tricky thing. Often times we say “That wasn’t my intention”, when something we have said is received by another person the wrong way. Communication in general is hard these days. Even in the most comfortable of relationships, words can often be received in the opposite way from how they were meant. Add in the faceless anonymity of social media, the cold and inflectionless reading of words via email and text, and we are setting ourselves up for loads of “that wasn’t my intention” experiences.
That Wasn’t My Intention
Growing up I had many “that wasn’t my intention” experiences. When someone would ask in a cold, sometimes cruel way, “What happened to your face?”, I would often react with aggression. I’d say “It’s none of your business!”, or I’d say “What’s wrong with your face?!” I reacted from a place of defensiveness, and both myself and the questioner would be left with feelings of embarrassment.
If you are part of the cleft community, you know what I’m talking about. I’m sure you’ve had experiences already where a well-meaning person asks a question in an extremely insensitive manner. Much like the usual “What happened to your face?”, there are others like “Did you get into an accident?”, “Were you bit by a dog?”. The list is endless.
What is Their Intention?
Over the years I have relaxed A LOT when I get asked these questions. What I have come to realize is that most people are genuinely curious, not malicious. They want to ask in a kind and sensitive way, but they don’t know how to go about it.
No matter what question is asked of me, I can usually tell if the person asking is sincere or simply voyeuristic. If I’m unsure of their intentions, one of my tried-and-true responses has always been, “If you are genuinely interested, I’m happy to talk to you about it another time.” This way it helps me feel more in control, and that I do not owe this person an explanation about myself. 99 out of 100 times, if the person is asking for nefarious reasons, they simply walk away.
My Story is Owed to No One
There were many times growing up that I felt I had to explain myself, no matter what. That as someone being born with a cleft made it mandatory that I had to share everything. Nothing could have been further from the truth, and honestly, I wish I had learned this lesson a little sooner. No one is owed our story unless we want to share it, no matter how nicely they ask. So, if you are not comfortable sharing something about yourself, you know what? You don’t have to. You can simply say, “No.”. “No, I’m not comfortable talking about that with you.” Or “I don’t know you well enough to share that part of my story with you.” Keep it short and sweet and with no room for further explanation.
Same Goes For Me
The same goes for when I want to know more about someone, or a particular aspect of their story. As someone who never saw another person with a cleft in my small town I grew up in, I would always get excited when I would see another adult with a cleft, and it would take all my power to not run up to them and say “Hi! I have a cleft, you have a cleft, I want to know everything about you and let’s be best friends!”
You’re Just Like Me!
I’m sure you can relate. We tend to get super excited when we see others that have similarities to ourselves. But we must remember to slow our roll. Let the excitement die down and if we are interested in knowing more about this person, put the ball in their court and ask respectfully if they would be open to talking to you sometime. But remember, they, just like you, do not owe anyone their story if they don’t want to share it. Be prepared for them to say no.
The Best Intention
Communication will always be a tricky thing. Just like in the game of telephone, words and meanings get quickly muddled these days. But by seeing others with an empathetic eye, asking questions in a respectful manner and without expectation of what the outcome should be, we can engage in meaningful and heartfelt conversations around shared experiences.
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