No words necessary.
Some of my favorite people in the world don’t use words.
Don’t get me wrong, words are important and even powerful, but communication isn’t...or shouldn’t be reliant on words.
Working at camp changes you, especially when you work at a camp for individuals with special needs. You learn so much...or at least I did. I already knew that there was much more to communication than words, but things change when you live in someone else’s world, forced to communicate with them whether you are comfortable with it or not. As I write this I know that no words will ever be adequate to describe what it’s like to communicate without words, to say ten thousand things without ever opening your mouth, but it’s worth trying.
Each week at camp we were placed into a cabin with a new group of campers. The ages could range from 6 years old to 100 years old, and it was our job to make their time at camp the best week of their life. How do you do that, you ask? You do it by communicating. You have to know what they like and what they don’t like. You have to be able to interpret their reactions in a split second and act accordingly. You have to connect with them even if they don’t communicate in the same manner as you.
Throughout the summer I heard giggles that told a story. I experienced bone crushing, suffocating surprise hugs that told you how much you were appreciated. I remember walking for 20 minutes alongside a camper as we crossed 50 feet to the dining hall, and I remember the look on that same campers face when we told her it was time to leave at the end of the week. She wailed and her face seemed to say, “please don’t make me go”.
I can’t help but wonder if she felt that way about leaving because there at camp she felt understood, accepted, and heard. At camp we said “we hear your silence and we accept that,” even when the world said, “use your voice”. She never once formed a word or made a noise louder than a mouse, but we heard her loud and clear; we joyfully accepted her form of communication and we reciprocated in the same way.
At camp, everything was communication. We communicated in exchanged friendship bracelets. We communicated with bedtime stories and singing too loud. We communicated with our actions and with our silence.
Please do not hear me wrong. Verbal communication is very important, and I seriously appreciate those who can eloquently speak their mind, but it isn’t the only option. Somewhere along the line society told us that verbal communication is the most important.
But it isn’t the most important because all communication is important.
I have a confession: I am not a very good verbal communicator. I’ve struggled much of my life with figuring out how I can communicate the same way that most people do, and you know what? Many times it has just left me frustrated and feeling unheard. But working at camp changed my perspective. Instead of trying to cram myself into the communication box society has for me, I’ve discovered how I best communicate. Ive torn the box apart and learned how to use writing to say what I have never been able to use my voice to say. Writing is my best form of communication and that’s okay.
And guess what? It is okay if you don’t communicate the same as society. Find your best way and start using it. Take full advantage of the gifts you’ve been given. Honestly, if we all communicated in the exact same way life would be pretty boring. There might not be any blogs or social media. There might not be art, and what would happen to music? So figure out how you need to communicate and start doing it. You won’t regret it, I promise.