Sometimes people reveal truths they are unconscious of, by the way they speak. It is not the words they say, that betrays them, but the other information hidden in tone and pitch and facial expression.
Just over a week ago, I was at a conference, in Malaysia. One of the speakers was from Australia. She was a slightly withered looking lady, with prematurely graying hair, who emanated a sense that disapproval came easily to her.
In a way, I thought her rather bizarre. You see, she was on the platform as a speaker on behalf of gifted education. However, her deepest feelings on the matter were not, exactly, consonant with her job description.
She was asked a question, by Zuhairah Ali, President of the NAGCM (NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR GIFTED CHILDREN, MALAYSIA).
“What do you think of child prodigies in the media?”, Zuhairah enquired.
“I don’t think much of parents who move countries for the education of their children.”, she replied, with an expression somewhere betwixt distaste and annoyance.
Oddly, she didn’t answer the question, but seemed to be answering another.
“That,”, she continued, stabbing at the word, “Is going too far.” Disapproval shone from her, like a very black light.
“There was one case,” she began, seeming to get more worked up as she thought about the case, “In Australia, of the parents of a sports prodigy – a 16 year old gymnast – who actually moved to New Zealand, because, they said, the Australian team wasn’t being friendly to her and the Kiwis were much nicer.”
I might have laughed, had this been a personal conversation. Her tone was so unfriendly, as she spoke of the emigrant gymnast, that it was almost beautiful to see how much she was confirming the correctness of their decision. There was such scorn in her face, that I can only say how pleased I was that the family had taken the decision to emigrate.
It was worrying, however, to see someone ostensibly working in gifted education with so little personal insight into the issues the gifted face, or the decisions families are led to take for the sake of their children’s futures. She saw the commitment to the children, that that Australian gymnast’s family showed, to be evidence of some kind of dysfunction: she couldn’t see it for what it is – parental love seeking to remove all obstacles in the way of their child. I have no doubt that if the parents are saying they moved countries because the Australian team was unfriendly to their child, then I am pretty sure that they must have been truly awful in their behaviour towards her. Now, which parent would stand by and do nothing in the face of such ill-treatment? Any good parent would seek to remove their child from the source of distress, either by quenching the torment, or changing the surroundings: they chose the latter, perhaps since it was likely to be their only option.
Any family that changes countries for their children’s future and present education, is showing a commitment to the child that many families do not have. Such commitment is to be admired and understood – not scoffed at, in a rather unfriendly fashion.
I deliberated whether to confront her with our own story – that we, too, had moved countries for our children. However, I decided not to, for I wanted my day to be a relaxed one, unriven by argument. She seemed too shriveled to be fun to talk to anyway – it would probably be a dispiriting experience I would be better off without. On the other hand, I doubt whether my conversation, which would have sought to enlighten her as to why parents do such things, would have any effect. Her very face, seemed stuck in an air of disapproval, so it seemed that she had practiced that emotion a little too often. My words would be unlikely to transform her.
I let her alone. However, she did give me the perfect memory of an Australian scoffing at the idea that Australians could be unfriendly enough to chase someone out of the country – delivered in a most unfriendly fashion, that quite convinced one that they could so be.
I hope the emigrant gymnast is happy with the New Zealand team. I further hope that all families who move countries for the sake of their children, find success.
We hope to, too.
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