In the 1950’s it wasn’t unusual to hear exasperated parents ask “Who Do You Think You Are?” This question was not posed as an invitation to explore possibilities and blaze personal pathways. Rather it was intended to rein in an out of control child or to deflate big dreams that the parents deemed unreachable or inappropriate.
Today “Who Do You Think You Are?” is the title of a hit show that debuted in 2010 on NBC. Each segment follows one celebrity as his ancestry is traced back through the generations. Family secrets, struggles, accomplishments, and scandals are uncovered. The celebrity’s personal journey through their ancestor’s footsteps highlights the heroism in ordinary lives. Without exception, the experience evokes a spiritual depth that transforms their understanding of who they are. It burns an appreciation of the generations of shoulders from which their lives sprouted.
The program is actually a reworking of a BBC show first produced in 2004. Millions of viewers on both sides of the Atlantic tune in to watch every week. Mesmerized by the adventure of the hunt for information, viewers identify with the celebrity. They share the pain of dead ends and the joy of unexpected discoveries. They understand the value and power of knowing one’s personal story.
I found myself with a conflicted reaction as the story unfolded during a recent episode. Empathetic tears welled in response to the celebrity’s visceral reaction to the unfolding story of his family. I experienced an equally strong dose of anger. This wasn’t directed at the concept or this particular actor.
What bothered me? As an adoptive parent, I’m familiar with a common response people have when adoptees voice an interest in learning about their birth heritage or in exploring a reunion with their birth families. The child’s interest is judged to be unnecessary or ungrateful. Some adoptive parents are offended by their child’s need to know and interpret it as an indication that they’ve failed as parents.
But an adoptee’s interest in knowing their story is not driven by idle curiosity. It’s a soul deep need to know the answers to the questions of their story. It is unfair to judge them for this desire to climb their family tree. For many adoptees, this journey is essential to piecing together the fragmented elements of their life journey. Other adoptees lack this yearning for facts and reconnection. All adoptees must be allowed to follow their hearts and walk their self-designed path to wholeness.
When asked “Who Do You Think You Are?” adoptees share the same answer as non-adopted persons: “I am the sum of all elements of my story—the events and people—who are part of the mosaic of pieces that have become “Me.” I am the product of my experiences, relationships, strivings and dreams. I am an evolving possibility.”
Recent political dialogue draws attention not only to the content being shared but also the manner and tone of that exchange. I’m a proponent of Free Speech and First Amendment guarantees. I’m also a devotee of personal accountability and pausing to listen to the inner voice of conscience before I open my mouth and yap.
Just because I can say something doesn’t mean, it’s a good idea to do so. Thoughts I passionately hold don’t require sharing with unbridled emotion. It makes sense to frame them in well-chosen words that invite listening and dialogue. Otherwise, I might as well remain silent.
I suspect that some speakers/writers compose their exchanges with the intended purpose of inflaming passions, inciting fanatic responses, and polarizing attitudes. This generates a great deal of excitement and frequently garners a great deal of media coverage. But extremism accomplishes little more than deepening the righteousness of entrenched positions.
Deep listening demands more than sound waves vibrating on ear drums. Effective communication requires both a committed speaker and an engaged listener. The shortest distance to someone’s attention, is to first provide my attention to them. After I genuinely understand the position of another and demonstrate I can articulate their position, they felt HEARD. Then the roles reverse. Now I can expect the same degree of attention and respect which I delivered.
As we help others to comprehend our stands, to engage with our data and to consider our goals—without alienating audiences—communication results. Perhaps listeners may be converted to a new position, perhaps not. When respect is the dominant tone, partnership becomes possible and everybody benefits.
Questions I ask myself before expressing a communication:
What is my purpose for sharing?
How can attract an audience that genuinely listens?
How will I invite their full attention so they will feel committed to reciprocate?
How can I influence the widest audience possible?
How can I express the point while respecting both myself and my listeners?
‘Twas the night before deadline, all efforts to write
The party was on, other authors had filed
Their stories completed, our editor smiled.
The presses were printing the holiday pages
Of authors who’d written the wisdom of sages
Their words poignant and inspiring, each hit the mark
While I’m stuck at my keyboard with nary a spark
My heart tarantella-ed and polka-ed and hopped
It thunderous beats drowned all int’resting thought
Deep yoga breaths would have to suffice
To focus my brain and make it play nice
Suddenly to mind an idea started to flash
Some personal memories to share and rehash
I can tell ‘bout the time our tree split right in half
Determined not to cry, we all sat and we laughed
Or the Christmas our little boy, so terribly sick
After opening each present needed the barf bucket–quick!
Another memorable Christmas in Georgia we woke
To the crackle of tree limbs in a crystalline cloak
A delight for Floridian kids who’d never seen snow
And a world full of beauty even Disney can’t show.
As the glitter and sparkle of the season shines bright
The reason for this important day of delight’s
Not the presents and gifts we’ve selected with much care
But the spirit of giving and the love that we share.
The favorite foods so lovingly prepared
And the moments together joyfully shared
Are metaphors for the message that counts above all
Of unconditional love expressed in ways large and small
Whether it’s reindeer or flamingos who dance in our heads
As we’re nestled securely in comfortable beds
With visions of skiing on water or in snow
To honor the season it’s essential to know
What’s important in life and who really rates
Your time and attention, forgiveness and grace.
For you and your dear ones, the most perfect gift.
Health, love and peace are my holiday wish.
Ovarian cancer at fifteen claimed my fertility and heaved me onto an unexpected path. My adolescent self assumed survival, although the statistics suggested otherwise. My gut seized on the awareness that pregnancy would never be possible. The realization nearly broke my spirit.
Fast forward through 13 years of marriage when my husband and I climbed aboard the adoption train. Twelve months of rigorous investigation and education concluded joyously—rapturously—with the arrival of our ten-week-old son. We declared him perfect. Our journey as an adoptive family began. Over the years, family life often resembled a demolition derby more than a smooth sail. In it for the long haul, we have never regretted our roller-coaster adventure. Life at full tilt tested our commitment, our souls, and our marriage. Call it destiny, vocation or mission, parenting brought us to our knees with grief and worry and catapulted us with joy, pride and love over victories large and small.
November brings the Thanksgiving holiday and highlights gratitude in my life. Blessings abound—a place to call home, a job and a paycheck, the comfort of true friendship. It is also National Adoption Month and I wish to acknowledge the gift adoption has been for me.
I encourage you to consider adoption and how it impacts your own life. Perhaps you have an adopted relative, friend, or co-worker. I invite you to consider becoming an adoptive or foster parent. For thousands of children in Florida, home and family is the most preposterous holiday dream they can invent. The clock is ticking.
You have the ability to make dreams come true.
In the Information Era, communication occurs in milliseconds. Distance and the time that it formerly took to traverse, are now moot points. With the click of a mouse and a bit of electronic abracadabra, a message flashes into the world, accessible to all with an e-device. Passwords operate as the e-version of the secret handshake. The politically disenfranchised world-wide utilize the internet to attract, rally and sustain support. Governments have been toppled, change introduced and people have become co-designers of their future. Medicine and education both rely on the web to deliver services and enhance results.
Much of the activity on the information superhighway is more pedestrian. I surf the ‘net regularly—part research, part relationship building and yes, admittedly— part time-wasting. I’ve noticed a trend. The text to picture ratio has shrunk. Significantly. Headlines on the newsfeed pair with attention grabbing pictures. When I click on them to access “the rest of the story,” the link leads to a series of photos accompanied by brief captions. No elaboration, no intriguing article, no further exposition. Much of the message is limited to pictures as in pre-literate times. Images side-step specific words to connect directly to the viewer/reader without the constraints of specific words. There’s a commonality of experience that occurs through the metaphoric link.
But the lack of detail has a cost. I miss the nuanced distinction of well chosen words. Discussion flows as ideas are exchanged and the finer points are dissected. Vivid descriptions convey subtle meanings and highlight aspects of the conversation which might go unnoticed.
Precision creates distinction and elaboration. Sometimes there’s no substitute for that type of accuracy.
A tear drop
Joins a stream
Does the river