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Memories come flooding


Two young girls dressed in pink watching the rain through a window.
Image Credit: Anna Dembitskaya - Shutterstock

I recently found myself watching the rain with my youngest daughter and thinking about the flooding and damage to homes it was causing along the east coast of Australia. It reminded me of a conversation we had shared many years ago as we sat on her bed watching the rain when I struggled to find the words to reassure her that everything would be ok.


My daughter used to love the rain and would put on her gumboots and splash happily in puddles. But we had noticed that she was becoming increasingly troubled, particularly during storms and heavy rain.


At first, I thought it was the thunder and lightning. We would open the curtains at bedtime, look up, and count the seconds between the lightning and the thunder to see how far away the lighting was. We talked about the different types of lighting and how pretty some of them were. I tried to explain how lightning works and why our house, which was halfway up a hill, was probably never going to be struck.


It didn’t seem to help.


During the next storm, we looked out through the curtains and talked about all the water falling from the sky. I assumed she had seen the talk on the news about minor flooding in the area, and that had prompted her to ask if we would be flooded. We talked about how water always runs down the hill and how we were never going to flood because we were halfway up. It seemed to help a little, but we were getting frustrated and worried about her developing irrational fears.


Then it really rained.


Heavy rain over a couple of days had caused significant flooding in parts of the city, with talk of water levels continuing to rise. Sitting on the bed, watching the lightning, she would not be consoled. We counted, or at least I did, to no avail. I reminded her again about how water flowed down and out to sea and talked about how far up we were.


Nope, she was not buying it.


She pointed out how heavily it was raining and how it had been raining for days and asked if Australia flooded would we flood too. “Not a chance”, I said. “But you said water runs into the sea…” was her reply, “and Australia is at the bottom of the world, so if it rains enough to fill up the world, then our house would be underwater too….”


And there it was.


At that moment, I understood that her fear was entirely rational. Based on the evidence she had, on the things she understood to be true, the heavier it rained, the more water that ran down the hill towards the bottom of the globe, the greater the chance her home would be flooded.


We all have reasons for holding the opinions we do. It wasn’t through any fault of my daughter’s that she had come to the conclusion that she did. Equally, no amount of my explaining or telling her why she had nothing to worry about was going to help. In fact, it was only strengthening her view.


I try to remember that conversation when I find myself frustrated or wondering how someone could be so clearly irrational in the face of seemingly obvious evidence to the contrary.


When I do, I get curious about what they know to be true; the things I might not know or the things I believe are false. That is often the starting point for a shared understanding, or at the very least, a shared exploration of which way is up, what goes down and how we think the world might work.


***


The importance of staying in conversations and listening for the reasons behind other people’s opinions is one of the things I discuss in my book Listening Differently: In Professional Life It is available in paperback, ebook and audiobook versions.

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