ValueSpeak - A Weekly Column by Joseph Walker
SQUISHING THE COMMUNICATION GAP
You might say that 6-year-old Cindy was a child of the streets. Only in her case, it had nothing to do with socio-economics. It had to do with fun.
Cindy loved to play in the street with her friends – an entertainment choice with which her parents were understandably uncomfortable. They did everything they could to keep her off the street. They lectured. They bribed . . . er . . . incentivized. They grounded. They even spanked. Still, day after day they found her out on the street, playing with her friends.
“Thankfully, the street we lived on wasn’t very busy,” her father, Steven, recalls. “In fact, it was sort of a winding country road. But it was a route often traveled by soldiers on their way home from a nearby military base, and sometimes those boys would drive awfully fast.”
Every time he drove by the lifeless form of an animal that had wandered into the road, he shuddered at the thought of his daughter’s propensity for street life. And so he continued trying to teach her the lesson – with limited success. It was a frustrating time for both father and child.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do with her,” an exasperated Steven said to his wife, Susan, after yet another scolding session. “I tell her the same thing over and over again, but she just doesn’t seem to get it.”
Susan, who had been following the ongoing father-daughter saga for as long as there had been a saga, turned the entire situation around with one simple, gentle observation: “Then maybe you shouldn’t keep saying the same thing. Maybe you should try something different.”
“Maybe,” Steven allowed. “But what else can I do?”
“I don’t know, Honey,” she said. “You’ll think of something.”
And he did. It came to him the next day as he was driving home from work. He saw something that triggered a thought, which became an idea, which became a full-scale plan by the time he got home. He walked over to where Cindy was playing (on the road, of course) and scooped her up in his arms.
“Come on, Sweetheart,” he said. “You and Daddy are going for a ride.”
They drove back along the route he had just traveled, eventually stopping just behind a furry mound of . . . something.
“What is it, Daddy?” Cindy asked as they got out of the car and walked toward . . . well, whatever it was that had been run over so many times that it was completely unrecognizable.
“Look closely, but don’t touch it,” Steven said. “Can’t you tell what it is?”
She studied the object by the side of the road for a few minutes, unsure of its identity until she picked out its unmistakable ears. “It’s a bunny!” she exclaimed.
“I think you’re right,” Steven said.
“What happened to it?” Cindy asked.
“It was playing in the road, and a car came along and . . .”
“. . . and squished it?” Cindy interrupted.
“That’s right,” Steve said. “It got squished because it was playing in the road.”
“Yuck!” Cindy said. For the first time, Steven saw understanding in his daughter’s eyes.
At least, he thought he did until he came home from work the next evening and saw a group of children playing in the street, with Cindy standing by the side of the road yelling right along with the other kids. Steven jumped out of his car and began striding toward his daughter, prepared to lecture, bribe, ground and spank – perhaps all at the same time. Then he heard what Cindy was shouting from the sidewalk.
“Come on, you guys!” she yelled. “Quit playing in the street or else you’ll get squished!”
Today Steven is a veteran educator who spends much of his time training young teachers. One of his favorite lessons to share is the one he learned from Cindy and Susan: if your message – whatever it is – isn’t getting through to your child, your spouse, your friend or your colleague no matter how many times you repeat it, maybe you should try something different.
Before someone gets . . . you know . . . squished.
— © Joseph Walker
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