They were fetching in their lovely dresses – I was admiring the picture of contrast before me: the one little girl was a brunette dressed all in white while her blonde cousin was all in red. I couldn’t help but smile at the expressions of both, which gave their beautiful little faces a serious look that surpassed their years.
They looked at each other, then, turning to me I heard one ask “why do you whisper?” I had to chuckle upon hearing the number one question children have asked me. Wow! How do I explain to these young children about the loss of muscle and brain function that controls my ability to speak, and that, due to the tracheotomy, there is enough ‘air compensation’ for me to get a whisper sound out? Well, you don’t. You’re to put everything in simple terms, right?
Easier said then done, so I found myself staring for a minute while my brain wracked itself for the right words. So, what did I do? I pointed to my trach and said I whisper because I speak through this device in my neck. A glance passed between them as if checking to see if it was agreed my answer was sufficient – it appeared to be satisfactory so it was on to the next question.
Later that evening I was thinking about the interchange shared with the little curious cousins – their innocent curiosity wanting to know what was wrong with me and the forthright, simple manner in which they were going to find out. I then thought of the times I have been in similar circumstances where an adult is the curious one. One thing became clear to me. When it comes to asking a person questions pertaining to their illness and/or disability, let a child ask them.
The difference in my experiences with children and adults is night and day. As the previous experience shows – children tend to get right to the point. They see something they don’t understand and want it explained. It is that simple to them. Now, with adults, there tends to be a long, drawn out dance that takes place. I will be asked very general questions for a bit – I guess it’s to get me relaxed, talkative … – and then the stuttering “ah ums” begin until, finally, out comes …. “were you in an accident?” I answer no. More “ah ums” and then it’s …” you haven’t always been in a wheelchair, have you?” Again I answer no.
Now, I’m not trying to make it difficult for the person. Many times the context of where the conversation is taking place limits my response, for one thing, and, too, I’m not a mind reader so I have no idea what the person is truly wanting to know. When the nervous chatter stops long enough for me to get out I have Lou Gehrig’s Disease, it never fails, I see a puzzled look cross their face and the conversation is taken into a whole different direction. I can’t help but think it is because it means asking more questions and, clearly, that is something most adults are uncomfortable doing.
Why? What is so uncomfortable about asking genuine questions?
Obviously there is the need for discernment when it comes to asking a person questions pertaining to their personal situation or circumstances. However, in my experience, people do not mind answering questions that show genuine interest in them as a person. Even more so when the person is obviously coping with something serious. We can reach out to others without being a busybody and we can ask the questions needed in order to enhance our understanding without nosily venturing across personal borders.
Think about any of the times you have had a child ask you something that dropped your jaw to the floor, yet after recovering your composure, you cautiously answered the question. Now, think of your reaction had it been an adult asking the exact question. Due to the manner in which the question is asked, our reaction tends to be totally opposite. Why? Because, generally, with children we discern the innocence that is at the heart of the question – they are asking something they simply are wanting to understand. With an adult, however, that can’t easily be discerned when the person is beating around the bush or being sly in how they are approaching things – when the adult doesn’t have the honesty to just say/ask what it is they are wanting to say/ask! We interpret the child’s manner as wanting to understand whereas we may feel the adult just wants to know what’s going on.
Ah, understanding. We all need to feel someone wants to understand our plight, whatever it may be. Thus, when we meet someone who is obviously dealing with a disability of some sort or we have heard they are enduring a serious illness, we shouldn’t hesitate to ask a sincere question that seeks understanding. Asking such questions is a good way to learn about an illness we may know little or nothing about. It’s also a way to validate the persons particular situation and can be emotionally healing by allowing them an outlet to talk about what their feelings are regarding what they endure on a daily basis.
Children have taught me the intricate line questions follow – and the line always follows a genuine interest for understanding something. So, really, when asking questions from the viewpoint of a child they will, for the most part, be questions that are readily answered … and appreciated. Questions are a wonderful way to learn about others lives, feelings, etc. and should be asked more often.
However, if you really are not interested in the answers – if you’re really not seeking understanding for another persons situation … then I strongly recommend questions be left to the children.
This post is dedicated to P.D., C.N., and B.G. – because they have taught me some valuable lessons on why questions are important, and yet, how they should be asked by young and old.