This I Believe

Gay - Klamath Falls, Oregon
Entered on February 9, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: family

I Believe in Talking

I believe in talking. We babble silly sounds to encourage our babies to “talk” to us. We eagerly anticipate the first word. Will it be “mama” or “dada” or the family pet?

My husband and I are retired speech-language pathologists. For over 40 years we served people from infancy to death who were struggling to talk. I helped children learn to say sounds and organize their language so that their speech could be understood. I taught hard of hearing children to speak with their hands. I saw children with severe disabilities brighten as they learned their way of talking, pointing to pictures on a communication board.

The inability to talk is a jail sentence. Any person who has lost the capacity to speak through disease or accident knows this prison. I saw my husband design computer communication systems for adults who had had strokes or were in the deteriorating stages of ALS and were being robbed of their ability to talk. He called what he did arranging jail breaks. The “prisoners” were eager to escape.

When my grandchildren have punched a sibling or are whining , I have heard my adult children tell them, “Use your words.” Why? Because that really is the best we have. I believe that the only real tool we have to solve problems is talking. Every argument, lawsuit, strike, or war ends when the individuals talk.

I believe that talking can hurt. We have all said and heard things that we never should have. But words are ultimately what heals. When our words have hurt, it is in persisting to talk that we are restored. Lawyers use lots of words to negotiate settlements. Decisions are not made on the picket line. Angry workers are appeased when management and labor sit down to talk about what is acceptable to both sides. Wars do not end on the battlefield. The battlefield becomes silent when peace talks, peace negotiations, peace treaties have been agonizingly worked out through endless conversations.

As a freshman in college, when I was choosing my life’s work, a friend asked me why I was going to be a speech-language pathologist. My answer as an idealistic 19 year old was that I saw our ability to talk as the essence of being human. I wanted to help people regain their humanity when their speech wasn’t working for them. Four decades and thousands of families later, I still believe in talking.