Don’t think of a purple giraffe (and what else not to say)

A company I admire allowed an employee to blog, “You probably don’t want to come to our conference, but here’s why I think you should.” Really? I don’t want to come to your conference? Now that you mention it–I guess I don’t!

Are you telling people what you don’t want them to think, or don’t want them do? And then are you surprised when they (your customers and clients, your children, the general public) think and do the opposite of what you wanted?

When we tell a child, “Don’t touch!” what does the child do? And at lightning speed?

Toddlers hear our command as “Touch!” The “Don’t” does not register. Grammatically, that is the imperative. And our tone makes it an urgent command. To negate what we commanded–do NOT do what we forcefully said–is linguistically sophisticated, over their tiny heads.

Even mature brains take longer to process a negative, thinking, “This–no, NOT this.” And even if ignored, negative words retain subliminal impact: “You probably don’t want to come to our conference.” “These are not the droids you are looking for.”

If we want people to understand us, possibly even do our bidding, then tell them what we want them to do, not what we don’t want.

Say your cat or your antique vase are endangered by tiny hands. Guide the tiny hand as you say and demonstrate, “Touch it gently. Gently.” You might want to supervise and remind, “Gently,” or remove the object of interest, but the child’s joy and cooperation will amaze you.

Sometimes we need to warn. If it is a hot stove, we can say, “Hot! Owie!”

ADOT (Arizona Department of Transportation) used to warn, “Don’t drive drunk!” That message includes “Drive Drunk!” That is like telling a toddler, “Don’t touch that stove!” I wanted to scream, “No! Tell them what TO do–like Designate a Driver!”

Not long ago, ADOT switched to “Drive hammered, get nailed,” which prompted at least one attorney to post billboards: “Got nailed? Call us!”

And finally this week, ADOT got it right. The signs now read, “Designate a Driver. Avoid a DUI.” YES! Give that reviser a raise! I expect the revision to prove more effective than checkpoints alone.

It’s easy to write, “Don’t think of a purple giraffe,” and forget what happens in the reader’s brain. What’s your favorite Purple Giraffe?

How one life was saved

Yawning Newborn

Near the end of her unplanned pregnancy, a young woman said, “I could never have an abortion–I knew someone would want him!” How right she was. Her baby is now almost six feet tall. He is a handsome and brilliant high school student. And he is my son! His birthmother chose life, she chose love, and she chose our family.

We were lucky to have had one child, a miracle of infertility treatment, and it seemed greedy to hope for another, but our only child kept praying for a brother or sister, and for several years, my feeling grew that someone was missing.

The social worker who certified us for adoption told us we would never be chosen. There were 67 certified families for every baby available. Besides, we were older than average—not what most young mothers choose for their babies. Later, I wondered what he meant by 67—was that for the agency, the state, the nation? I searched for statistics and learned that states did not track the number of families certified and waiting for adoption. I don’t know what the actual ratio is, but if my circle of friendship is typical, then considering adoption is extremely common—about 15% of married couples are infertile—and actually certifying to adopt is fairly common, while adoption is rare.

Our hope was to adopt a sibling group out of foster care. Several times, we thought that was happening. But despite new laws designed to place children in permanent families more quickly, each case was delayed. One fresh-from-college social worker proposed giving an unwed biological father three more months to get sober so she could give him custody of his own toddler and the mother’s older child as well, even though the mother’s rights were already severed for both children, and the couple was still seeing each other off and on. Meanwhile, during this sobriety experiment, we would be required to take our maybe-yes-maybe-not children to visit these parents, who would know who and where we were. We finally said, “Call us when they are freed for adoption.”

Despite a public crisis, with more children in foster care than ever before, families trying to adopt these children are common, and for many complex reasons, finalized adoptions are rare.

So it was quite the surprise to be chosen by a birth mother, meet her, and welcome our newborn two weeks later. Every birth is a miracle. Every child is a gift. Every life has value and purpose. And someone will want him or her.

There’s a march on Washington today. There are conferences and speeches. But I get to celebrate pro-life day by hugging my kid.

An unplanned pregnancy is traumatic. Our culture doesn’t stigmatize it anymore, but it will it ever be easy to be pregnant and alone?

Bless the courageous mothers who choose life! On behalf of one life and one family, thank you for choosing life. Thank you for choosing us.


Photo copyright Vivid pixels istockPhoto #382919

Fountain Pen image copyright Dre Schwartz, iStockPhoto #5330500