What If We Asked More Genuine Questions?
My niece reaches up to touch my face and asks, “What’s that?”
She’s looking at my birthmark, a port-wine stain that’s on the side of my nose.
I tell her that it’s my beauty mark. She asks me if she has one, and if it hurts, because it’s a reddish color, the color of “boo-boos.”
I tell her no.
She looks at me and smiles, and that’s that.
In the meantime, I can feel the adults around us stiffen a bit, afraid that she has somehow hurt my feelings by asking about the very prominent mark upon my face. They know the stories from my childhood when the playground bullies made fun of my face. They know it’s a part of me that I haven’t always loved.
Of course, she hasn’t hurt my feelings.
She’s merely a curious three-year-old who’s noticing the differences between herself and the ones around her. She hasn’t quite learned how to suppress any questions that might arise. For somewhere along the line, we’re taught not to ask questions about people’s appearances, about the things that make us different from one another. Somewhere along the line, we learn to ignore the things that we see as clearly as day and tell ourselves that it would be rude to address them otherwise.
But what if we gave as much grace to our thirty-year-old selves as we do to the three-year-olds we love?
What if we created a world where we didn’t shame people for asking questions? For being curious? For wanting to know more about the people that surround them? What if we didn’t jump right to the assumption that a question is somehow rooted in ill intent and instead realized that sometimes people are genuinely curious? What if we created a world where people saw the things that make us different and leaned into the beauty, wonder, and magic that those differences bring?
What would happen then?
Perhaps we’d learn a bit more. Maybe we’d stop to listen to the stories of the ones we meet and learn about the things that are brewing beneath the surface. We’d stop assuming things based on what we see — and instead, get to know the human behind the birthmark. Or the skin color. Or the accent. Or whatever it is, you see that’s different from the body you inhabit and the story you hold.
Maybe then we’d be a little bit more loving towards one another. Perhaps we’d hold space for the things that make us different and, in doing so, create a world where those differences can come together in a giant, beautiful mosaic that is this life. Maybe we’d see that you can have differences, and similarities, too — for everyone wants to be seen, and heard, and loved.
I know it’s easy to paint a picture of a perfect world, where everyone gets along and loves one another and delights in the differences that they have while strengthening the commonalities that they share.
I know it’s easy to write this down, that sometimes it’s easier to paint a picture of hope and happiness with words, and far more complicated to do it in person.
And yet, I can’t help but think that maybe we make it more complicated than it has to be — that if we took a cue from our children, and asked questions that are undoubtedly rooted in love, and curiosity, and a genuine need to understand — that might be a start.