When I was a little girl there was a doll named Chatty Cathy. You pulled her string and there were a variety of phrases she said. I wasn’t too interested in this particular toy, but when Mattel came out with Cathy’s siblings, Chatty Baby and Chatty Brother, I knew I had to mend my naughty ways so the tow-headed babies would be mine for Christmas.
The twin dolls looked exactly alike except Chatty Baby had longer hair than her twin brother. At least she did until MY little sister, Tina, decided the doll needed a haircut. Even as a "doll mother" I was embarrassed that my plastic baby had a crew cut and the golden tresses would never grow back. However, karma being what it is, Tina’s friend, Debbie, found her own pair of scissors and Tina sported a crew cut herself for several months.
Anyway, my chatty twins had a repertoire of about 10 sayings such as “I hungry,” “mama,” “dada,” “you nice” and my favorite, “I love you.” They also laughed and cried. I pulled their little strings and never tired of their chatter. Evil siblings would do things like stutter stop the string mid pull so the babies would change their phrase and say something like “I love…boo hoo hoo.”
I was kind of a frumpy little kid, but my dolls were always well cared for. I brushed their hair, never left them outside in the heat, and they were always decked out in cute outfits. To this day I cannot bear to see a naked doll on the floor. I say the same thing to my grandkids that I did for my own daughters, “Go put some clothes on your baby before he/she catches a cold.” It works too because I’ve never heard so much as a sneeze from the baby dolls.
Unfortunately, my daughters did not share my affection for my chatty baby and her brother. In fact they were scared of the dolls. That movie “Chuckie” ruined the lives of a lot of innocent dolls. Bad Chuckie. But I digress.
As I have gotten older, I realize that I share some characteristics with these loquacious toys. For example, someone says something and rather than really think about a kind and thoughtful answer, the reaction is a knee jerk reply that becomes the equivalent of “go take a hike!” (or worse.)
We have a lot more than 10 automatic responses, but the same ones tend to get used over and over again. Think of the typical response when you are cut off in traffic. One or two words and one gesture usually materialize. The same is also true for sad news. The typical response is something less than heartfelt, such as, “Don’t worry, things will improve.” These banal comments are so hollow you can hear the echo as the words leave your lips.
As a writer I am always trying to think of things to say that can offer a unique perspective or insight. At least that’s the goal. But there are times when it’s as if someone pulls MY string and I make a stereotypical comment. Sometimes words are just too cheap and a friendly ear and a warm hug can say a lot more.
So I’m challenging everyone to try something new. Try talking less and listening more. This is nothing new. More than 2,000 years ago Epictetus said, “We have two ears and one mouth so we may listen more and talk the less.”
I recently purchased the book, “Listening” by Lee Coit. He not only talks about listening to others, but to listen to your own inner wisdom.
There will be times when someone says something and we will be inclined to respond with a cliché. Undoubtedly there will be times when others try to push our buttons or pull our strings.
At these difficult times we all need to remind ourselves to take a deep breath and really listen to what the other person is trying to say. If it is hurtful, dismiss it. If there is some truth to it, listen to your inner wisdom and see if there is a kernel of truth to it that can be used as a way to improve yourself. But most importantly, listen to your inner wisdom. Especially the part that when asked, responds with unconditional love. And best of all, you don’t even need to pull a string to hear it.