Monday, 5 November 2007

How Quickly We Learn

As I have no doubt mentioned before, this is a drawing of a very precious young relative of mine -- he even had the good sense to be born on my birthday which was undoubtedly this nicest birthday gift I ever received! The drawing is called
"Walking Tall" and shows him making a determined effort to master the skill of walking.

He has always seemed delightfully comfortable in his own skin and relatively unconcerned about what the world around is thinking of him. Then, today, I received a new photo in which something seems to have changed. I could just be imagining things but he is old enough now so that he is spending more time with other children and we all know how cruel children can be to one another.

You see, this sweet boy has a disease which can cause certain kinds of disfigurement, but he has never seemed to pay any attention to the problems associated with it. Neither he nor his parents have ever made any special effort to hide or disguise the problems. That is why the photo I received today was so striking -- it looks as though he has purposely turned his head away from the camera so that only the best side is showing! See what you think.

Maybe I am just trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, but his body language seems very different to me. Let me show you two more photos from the last year or so when he seemed totally unconcerned about such things as how he looked.

All this starting me thinking about the messages we receive from our earliest days and how quickly we learn about ourselves and the world around us from those messages. Even though young children often misunderstand the messages they receive because they don't yet understand themselves in relation to the world around them.

And while it is difficult enough to get the correct information taken in and figure it out properly, what if you are a member of a particular minority? -- Especially a minority that carries many negative characteristics in the minds of the majority? What then? I can only imagine what negative messages these Native Canadian youngsters have internalized by this point in their lives. (This drawing of mine, by the way, is entitled: "Three Sisters at a Picnic").
This next photograph is one I have been thinking about drawing for quite some time. It came from a mission magazine and is called "miracle child". She has had surgery to repair a very severe harelip (you can see the before picture in her hand) and now she has a chance to have a more normal (whatever that is) life. Doesn't she have the most incredible eyes and eyebrows?
Once again, I can't help but wonder about the messages she heard and learned during those early years when people would have turned away from her in disgust.

This drawing, as you may recall, was finished fairly recently. It is not easy to look at nor was it easy to draw. I can only wonder what this young woman thinks about herself after the kinds of messages she has received during her lifetime. (The title, by the way, is "Please Don't Cut Me").

I recall the episode in the book The Color Purple about the young African woman who ended up leaving the safety of the missionaries and going back to her village and allowing herself to be circumcised. Do you remember what she said?
The messages we get in those first years are so powerful that most of us have to live with them for the remainder of our lives. We can do all sorts of psychotherapy, mindfulness training, etc. and the best many of us seem to be able to come up with is to become aware of the process going on within us, understanding why we respond in the ways we do and sometimes being able to turn off the message in mid-transmission.

Finally, tonight, I would like to show you a photograph of a little 3-year-old girl by the name of Sallie (real name Sarah).
Yes, that was me all those years ago and, as you can imagine, I had quickly learned all sorts of messages about who and what I was and my role in the universe. For example, I already knew that my parents' happiness depended entirely on my doing whatever my father demanded -- even if it made me feel uncomfortable -- so that he wouldn't yell at my mother. As well, I also knew that my mother's happiness depended on my listening to whatever she wanted to talk to me about when we were alone -- even if it made me feel uncomfortable -- so that she wouldn't tell my father when I misbehaved.
Over the years I have often written poetry as most people have. Tonight this photo reminds of one poem I wrote back in the 70's (I think). Anyway, I can only recall fragments of it, but it seems a fitting way to end tonight's post:
There's not a word I've ever written,
There's not a word I've ever read;
That would enable me to share with you,
What's going on inside my head...

Trust you say will enable me to
bring what's dead to life;
Will enable me to reveal to you
all the anger, fear and strife;
Truth eludes me each time I try to speak;
What I tell is well-crafted,edited,
so nicely turned around;
while inside my head
I'm screaming: "Hear me, hear me"
But I never make a sound.

Peace be with you.

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