How much different would the world be if we were all Kid Brave? Our daughter is 20 months old. She speaks, to be sure–generally a word or two at a time, repeated, in order to make simple requests. “Water.” “Water?” “Papi, Water” You get the idea.
The part that amazes me, and that amazed me about our son when he was just as young if not younger, is that not knowing does not make her self-conscious and never holds her back. I’m fairly certain that she is aware that she doesn’t know many words–she just doesn’t care. When she feels like having a conversation, she has it. I’m not referring here to the simple requests that I illustrated above, I mean a conversation. long and detailed and as far as I can tell, chronologically organized. It’s obvious, when she’s doing it, that she is telling a story of some kind–whether true or imagined, I don’t know–and if I do not respond to what she is saying, she will become a very cross little person. Every once in a while an intelligible word will be included that lets me know that she is talking about something that is real in her mind, but 99% of what comes out of her mouth is complete gibberish. All of the inflections and body language that would go along with an adult conversation are part of her repetoire and make it possible to determine from the little chuckle that enters her voice and the smile that spreads across her plump little face that she has gotten to a lighthearted part of her story, and when she comes to the part where she is angry, or the part where she was cautious, or even the part that has confused or dumbfounded her, everyone can tell. But what those things are is a mystery because the only words that anyone can understand are generally her brother’s name, Papi, Mami, bread, poop, peepee, water, itch (Florida–fire ants and mosquitoes–constantly itchy kids) and boom. She uses “boom” gloriously to describe everything from the feeling of the blanket being spread over her to hitting her head on the table.
Conversations with her are one of my favorite things. I can’t help but marvel at how expressive she is, how intensely she is telling the story, how passionate she becomes when she apparently recounts some injustice that her brother has perpetrated upon her. I revel in the bravery that she has been born with, and am saddened that it will soon begin to be stripped from her. I smile every time she comes to the end of her story and I ask her “What else?” and I can see her searching through her beautiful little mind to gather together the tidbits of her next tale.
I was inspired to write about this because I conducted a meeting today with a group of people who report to my direct reports. I did all of the things that I am supposed to do as a meeting organizer, asking questions, posing hypotheticals, calling on people directly. At the end, I reserved a half hour for questions and answers. Getting people to speak was like pulling teeth, and the only question in the Q&A was if I as planning to give bigger raises this year. And then tonight, when I sat down at the computer, I had no fewer than 15 e-mails making comments and asking questions about the things we had been in a meeting to discuss! The sad truth is that the meeting participants were afraid to speak up because they didn’t want to be subjected to the scrutiny of their peers–everyone assumes that they are the only one who does not know something and that they are the last one to think of what they want to suggest.
Imagine if we all were Kid Brave. Imagine if we could simply ignore what we have been taught over the years and could ignore that voice in our heads saying “They’re gonna laugh at you.” Imagine if such thoughts didn’t exist! Can you imagine how much differently meetings would go, and as a result how much differently companies would run, and as a result how much different working would be? Can you imagine how the world would change if we were all Kid Brave?
The next time you feel shy, think about my little girl. Be Kid Brave.
The next time you lead a meeting, start with the story of my little girl, or of your own children if you have them, and encourage the participants to be Kid Brave.
Most importantly though, try to help your kids hang on to that courage as long as you can. They lose it so easily, and so fast. When you see them shying or when you notice that they have held themselves back because they fear what the reaction will be, let them know that they were not born to tremble under the weight of someone else’s opinion, they were born to speak gibberish if they feel like it just to hear the sounds come out of their mouths even if not another person on Earth can understand them, and especially if people are going to laugh at them. Remind them that they were born with a gift that they may never be able to get back if they throw it away. Remind them that they were born Kid Brave.
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