Chris Markiewicz's Blog
Every Monday – thoughts, observations and ideas that hold up a mirror to who & how we are

From the mouths of babes

My partner and children were away a couple of weeks back visiting her mother in Wales. Being as I’m just a boy in grown up clothes,  I grabbed the opportunity to go up the road to the supermarket and stock up on a few “goodies” to help fill the hole left by their absence.

 As I was perusing the bikky shelf for some scrummy bargains I heard a young voice behind me say “Mummy, why has that man got a blind stick?”

 She’d obviously seen that, on the one hand I was carrying a cane and therefore supposedly blind yet, on the other hand I was studying biscuit packets. Her mother shooshed her, telling her not to be so rude.

 I had to interject. I said hello and went on to answer her question, explaining that I had some of my vision but not all of it. I demonstrated my lack of peripheral vision and showed how the cane would help prevent misunderstandings should I bump into people. The mother continued to appear embarrassed and apologetic for her daughter’s curiosity. This made me feel a little sad.

 I insisted that I was happy to answer such questions and went on to explain the reasons behind my less than perfect vision. The girl’s older sister then piped up by saying she’d seen someone on the TV who was partially sighted and had found it really interesting.

 People with visual impairments often talk about how we can be ignored or misunderstood because we carry a cane.

 A clue to the reason for this being the case could be revealed by the incident at the supermarket. Why are children taught that it is rude to enquire? How else are they going to learn? I like it when people ask me about my vision. Yet, “grown ups” seem to so often chastise their youngsters for openly expressing their curiosity.

 If the stigma of asking about things were to be removed, then I would be pretty certain that so much of the discomfort people feel around visual impairment and other “disabilities” simply wouldn’t exist. Would the difficulties that many organisations face around diversity issues start to melt away?

 A family friend of our’s has a disability. The first time I met her a couple of years back, I asked her why this was the case. She explained it was a problem she’d had from birth and went on to explain the reasons for it.  Just recently she told me how she’d appreciated my enquiry and how unusual it had been that an adult had asked such a question – especially on first meeting. If we are brought up to believe such questions are rude and inappropriate, the result is far more likely to be awkwardness, embarrassment and disconnection. Yet, how else is anyone going to learn about what it’s like?

 So, I say lets all reclaim that childlike part of us that may have been drummed out of us and allow ourselves to feel OK about asking all those “different” people about how things are for them. And, if they’d rather not answer , they can say so.

 Equally, I’d always urge any of us who are “different” in some way to answer any questions posed to them. That way, perhaps slowly, slowly barriers will start to come down.

 Now, where did I hide those bikkies?           


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3 Responses to “From the mouths of babes”

  1. Loved this blog.

  2. Hi Chris,

    Having been a child who was brought up in this way – to not ask questions for fear of being rude – I find it really difficult to approach these situations without over thinking them!

    I’ve learned as an adult that it’s ok, and that no threat is posed by engaging people who have a disability or appear to be very different to myself. In fact, quite the contrary, often you can learn and understand your own life better when you discover the person within the outer shell!

    My daughter’s school is next to a camp hill community and there’s a great shop and restaurant there that we go to often. The camp hill residents are wonderful and will happily engage anyone – in fact so much so that you can build a great relationship with them. It’s taught me a great deal about how my upbringing left me with a fear of engaging others and helped to move that all forward.

    It’s also great for my kids to meet people who are “different” so they don’t have to live in a world where there needs to be “different”!

    Cheers, Dan.

  3. Hi Chris

    Your story reminds me of a time when I was due to meet a potential client for a preliminary discussion. I was told by a mutual acquaintance that he was very embarrassed about his height – 6′ 10″. Being a six footer myself, it was unusual for me have to crane my neck to look up to people.

    I met him at the local station and we planned to go for a coffee. I am normally quite a good communicator, but that the height thing was acting as a barrier to my usual slick patter. I realised, as we walked, that I wanted to make a comment, but I had been warned of potentially embarrassing him, something I really didn’t want to do.

    Finally, my inner child curiosity won through – I asked “Did you ever play rugby?” (my sport back then). “No” he replied “Basketball – my height was a real advantage”. The ice was broken, we talked as we walked about sport and how being tall was an asset. There was no embarrassment and for a short while he became a client.

    I reckon that the way people respond to differences can make them barriers to communication or a open door to authentic contact. Chris, I agree with you; it’s worth unlocking the curiosity of that inner child and see what occurs; it maybe a pleasant surprise.

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