Good day, team.
A few years ago, I wrote a coach’s challenge about a young girl named Bailey who I sat next to on an airplane flight. She taught me something fundamental about communication and emotional presence that I think is always worth sharing. I re-publish this challenge each year during the holidays in dedication to her. Here it is:
I had an experience recently that seemed an appropriate topic for this week since we are officially now in the holiday season.
While flying back to Portland, I sat next to a 10-year-old girl named Bailey. When I first saw her, she seemed just like any other little girl, but as I sat down next to her, the flight attendant informed me that Bailey was a “challenged child” (an odd term) in that she could not speak. However, the flight attendant went on to say that Bailey would understand everything I said to her and could communicate with movement and expressions.
This news made me immediately uncomfortable. As I buckled my seatbelt and settled into my seat, I realized how awkward and confused I felt. Should I speak to her or not? What kind of response would I get from someone who couldn’t speak? Did she even want me to interact with her? It was as if this little girl were made of fine porcelain and if I didn’t treat her very carefully, she might break.
Fortunately, Bailey immediately put me at ease with her beautiful smile and sparkling blue eyes. When I said hello to her, she smiled and waved hello. The plane took off, and I began to read a magazine. The many Christmas advertisements featured pictures of snowflakes, stars, icicles, presents, etc.
Each time that I turned a page and a picture of a star appeared, Bailey pointed to the star and looked at me and smiled. I would then say, “Yes, that’s a star.” Before long, I noticed that I was actually looking for more pictures of stars so we could communicate with each other.
Coincidentally, there was a boy sitting behind us about the same age as Bailey. I realized before long that he talked pretty much continuously, first about the X-Box he wanted for Christmas, then about his friend’s new cell phone, then about school, then about his Dad, and so on and so on.
After awhile, I realized I had toned him out. I may have been open to hearing what he had to say in the beginning, but after so many words, I was no longer interested. And yet, every movement and expression of the little girl sitting next to me, who couldn’t speak a word, kept me keenly interested in what she was communicating.
This experience made me think about our basic need to connect with each other as human beings, and the importance of allowing our emotional beings to reach out to each other in any way possible. When we take up all the space by talking about ourselves and don’t allow the other person to respond, the connection is lost, and the speaker becomes a nuisance rather than someone we want to know.
Bailey taught me something fundamental about our true nature as human beings. Wordlessly, her communication came through loud and clear. Her loving nature spoke volumes, and our communication had a quality that I don’t often experience when I talk with another person.
At one point, when a picture in the magazine appeared that showed animals around a beautifully decorated holiday tree, Bailey took my hand briefly and pointed my finger to the star at the top of the tree. Her open heartedness moved me with such warmth and joy that it brought tears to my eyes.
This week, try connecting with others in ways that you don’t normally. Experiment with being more present to someone who is speaking to you so that you can not only hear her or his words, but can also notice expressions and gestures. Perhaps you’ll try greeting someone with a smile and some eye contact instead of a hello. If you find that you tend to talk a lot about yourself, try to ask other people questions about themselves instead. Practice listening more, especially to the words that are not being spoken, so that you can have a different experience in your communications.
And finally, be grateful that you have the amazing ability to connect and communicate with others in so many ways. By meeting Bailey, I understood that some of us are not so fortunate and that many of the things we take for granted, like saying our name, are not possible for others.
During this holiday season, be thankful for your ability to let others know what you think, how you feel, and who you are. And don’t be afraid to really connect by allowing the beauty of your heart to speak out, whether it’s in words or silence.
Have a good week!
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