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Know to whom you are talking

Know to whom you are talking Know to whom you are talking

We have all heard the remark ‘Do you know who you’re talking to?’ It is often associated with someone thinking another person has said something inappropriate. In fact, we sometimes associate it with an arrogant attitude in response to what is perceived as underestimating the status of another person. But, if used right, it is a legitimate and appropriate question to ask ourselves as we relate to others. Do we know who we are talking to? Do we really know and understand those with whom we speak?

Sometimes we misunderstand a statement or action by another because we fail to be aware of their background. We tend to feel that all comments or actions toward us are the result of our relationship to them. In reality, most of us are formed by past environments: voices from our parents or personal experiences that have colored our attitudes. When we listen to ourselves tell our own stories to others, our eyes are opened as to what we do and why we do it.

In my life, I am more and more aware that the nature of my parent’s childhood has had a big impact in shaping me. My mother, with a German heritage, grew up on an Indian reservation in Nebraska. She went to school with Native American kids until she left the Winnebago reservation and went to college. As a result, she always identified easily with folks who lived in minority communities. My father was the son of a preacher who served small poor rural churches. They were paid in garden produce, and the family moved often. As the new kid in town, he tried to prove he was not a sissy and developed athletic skills, which he later used in college. My parents married at the beginning of the Great Depression in 1928. My dad subsequently worked for the same company for 41 years, and my mom took care of the house and kids. They were frugal, hard working and non-pretentious. All these traits served them well during the economic downturns, the medical epidemics of the times and the second World War.

When I look into my own attitudes and actions, I see how the external influences of life between 1908 and 2019 have paved the way for who I am today. Out of this background, some friends and I began a long conversation with each other as to how the ‘times’ of the past have formed us. It became evident that several things influenced how an event affected a family. One of the biggest differences was your age and the age of your parents when the big events happened. Were you a kid during the Great Depression, a new parent or the child who grew up hearing about it? Did your parent serve in World War II? Were you a child during the war or did you hear about it from your grandparents? Were you quarantined during the polio epidemics and measles outbreaks or someone who has heard the tales passed down in the family? These were the influences in the life of this 84-year-old woman.

What have been the big benchmarks in your life? The Korean, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan wars perhaps? How old were you when the Civil Rights movement took place? The victorious walk on the moon 50 years ago has had an effect on most of us. The recession of 2008 has left its marks on young people today, whether they were old enough to have to worry about a job and property values or were just aware of the affects on those around them. Most of us are wearing the scars of Sept. 11 in our sense of security and duty to country.

We hear the tone of voices used when our elders gather and share old stories. Even as adults and far away from our childhood surroundings, we still hear in our conscience the messages of our family and teachers as to attitudes about conditions that impacted their lives. Add these voices to your own experiences that have shaped your thoughts about the environment, religion, immigration, equal rights, health care, individual responsibility and education.

To understand ourselves a little better, let us listen to our voices as we tell our stories to others. We will get insights into why we do what we do and say what we say.

Talk with your friends about their childhood memories and experiences if you want to ‘know who you are talking to.’

I have three very close and special friends. We are all quite different. We come from very dissimilar backgrounds. We tell our stories to each other and, as we do, we not only learn about each other, but about ourselves. We don’t try to change each other. The variety of slants on an issue, policy or condition leads to lively discussions. It is exciting, fun, inspiring and very educational. We show ourselves to each other through the stories we tell of our childhoods, our families, schools, jobs and friends. We are from various time periods on the calendar and foreign countries on the map. We truly love each other for our individual uniqueness as well as our common human bonds. We understand each other.

Ask yourself, ‘Do I know who I’m talking to?’