Today, while out walking, I was non-intentionally challenged by a darling seven and a half-year old boy to drink from the trough of my own advice to start with what you’re not.
While walking with his mom, the little urchin stopped me and asked a common and simple question:
“Are you cat person or a dog person?”
Although this was not the first time I have been asked a version of this question, I was thinking that it was interesting that he stopped me out of the blue to ask me today because, although I have enjoyed many darling animal photos on social media, before today I had never posted one myself. Did he have Facebook?
I answered him. “I am not a cat person.”
He looked at me with knowing satisfaction because at that exact moment I was out walking my dog, Cujo. He then did what we all do. He filtered this knowledge of my non-cat-person status through his own lens of experience and compared it to himself. I could see by his approving expression that he was clearly a dog person.
And then I came clean admitting, “I am not a dog person.”
He looked disappointed. I can only assume that my response ignited his curiosity even more than it would have had I not been walking my pug, Cujo. He furrowed his brow and asked me with that wonderfully blunt inquisitiveness that crisply identifies youth or adult quirkiness, “Do you really hate animals?”
Torturing that cutie a bit (and I admit that I was also testing one of my crazy theories) I simply shook my head and replied, “No, I don’t hate animals.” And then I breathed through my nose. I shut up.
“Oh, that’s weird,” he replied.
“Why is it weird?” I asked with a smile.
He studied my question as the non-rhetorical I meant it to be. He thought for a really long time while looking at me closely for clues to resolve his new knowledge with his existing view of the world. It was hard for me to resist helping him out. I wanted to explain myself by telling him all about what I am. I wanted to make him like me…to sell him on me. He was so freaking cute it was hard for me to shut up and let him think. Although I hate to admit it, not filling the silence is not the easiest thing for me.
Finally he said, “Hmm. What are you?”
Bam. He asked.
In that moment and once again, I saw the power of stoking curiosity. Again I experienced how hard it is to start with what you are not — to avoid jumping the gun on sharing all about what you’re all about. And again, I saw just one of the astonishing miracles of starting with what you’re not. This time it ignited wonderful curiosity in my new, little friend in order for us to connect on a deeper level.
I saw that even though it was not apparent that I was selling a darn thing to this darling boy, I was. As pathetic as this may sound, in a very simple way, I was selling the brand of me.
Once he had become curious enough to follow his curiosity, I was ready to identify what I’m all about when it comes to animals. I was ready to come out as the sea-creature lover that I am.
“I am a seahorse person. And kind of a jellyfish person, too,” I admitted.
“Oooh. I’m like you. I love seahorses.”
For the first time in our conversation he smiled excitedly, turned to his wonderfully non-meddling mom, and asked, “Can she come over and play sometime?”
Hooray! for drinking from my own trough, starting with what you’re not, and unearthing uncommon commonalities…and new friendships.