For the last couple of years I’ve been showing some of my students and parents this YouTube video of Taylor Mali.
Taylor Mali is a poet, teacher, voice actor and more generally, an observer of the human condition.
One of his best observations is the slow death of the declarative sentence. Not only have I seen this type of vocalization ‘in the wild’ of my classes, but I find this trend of verbalization to be detrimental to one’s self-confidence.
In case you can’t click on the link to listen to Mali vocalize Totally like whatever, you know?, then let me give you some highlights:
…Invisible question marks and parenthetical (you know?)’s
have been attaching themselves to the ends of our sentences?
Even when those sentences aren’t, like, questions? You know?
because they used to, like, DECLARE things to be true, okay…
…I have nothing personally invested in my own opinions, okay?
I’m just inviting you to join me in my uncertainty?
…I entreat you, I implore you, I exhort you,
I challenge you: To speak with conviction.
To say what you believe in a manner that bespeaks
the determination with which you believe it.
Because contrary to the wisdom of the bumper sticker,
it is not enough these days to simply QUESTION AUTHORITY.
You have to speak with it, too.
So what does language have to do with self-defense? For one, when used properly, the voice is a powerful tool to control distance, and to express our intent. It can project authority and even put fear in the minds of some of its recipients. Think of a bark, a growl, the roar of a lion or a drill instructor.
As regular readers know, I run my school/dojo on three main principles: discipline, awareness and organization. Only when one is aware of a stranger, can one begin to discover the intent of a stranger. Once the intent of a stranger is discovered, then one can vocalize their own intent and concerns.
When someone adopts a verbal posturing akin to Mali’s poem, they are seen as pushovers. Needs are not met accurately, timely or consistently by being passive aggressive, mealymouthed or interrogative.
If a child feels meek, sounds meek and looks meek, then he will not feel like he is worth protecting. If the child feels as if his will and position in life is always at question then he can only be affirmed positively or negatively by others and never by himself.
It is important for children to learn to speak clearly and firmly as early as possible. Claiming space with their voice and posture not only shows others where they stand, but it makes them feel like they are worth standing up for.
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