We don’t know what we think we know.
As a child my dad never tired of yelling, “Who’s the king?” and I’d enthusiastically yell back, “Elvis” as I’d been taught to do, always to hoots of laughter and applause. I was too young to understand the meaning of my words, I only knew what the adults wanted of me.
As children, even as adults our words can have a performative nature; we say things all the time to delight others, sometimes to provoke, or just to make people comfortable in order to maintain harmony. We perfect this skill as children, keenly aware of the stated and unstated demands for loyalty, for silence or for allegiance.
I can think of so many ways in which I would speak someone else’s thoughts packaged as mine. My words had nothing to do with my beliefs and everything to do with fitting in and seeking approval. Something not exclusive to adoptees but particularly difficult for us – as it is for anyone who feels they don’t fit into the community they find themselves in.
If you find this relatable then perhaps it won’t be a leap to consider that the adoptee you know isn’t as fine as you think. Perhaps you see the danger in the viral video of a little girl talking about meeting her adoptive mother for the first time expressing nothing but love and gratitude.
Both the larger scale ethics of using this for pro adoption marketing and the more personal danger to this little girl who must already be in an environment in which she understands on a deep unconscious level what’s expected of her in order to be safe. Spoiler alert, it is not to have curiosity or longing for her birth family or the identity she’s lost.
When I look at happy smiling photos of myself as a baby or as a little girl I feel I betrayed myself, and yet I know I was just a child trying to fit in, I wasn’t an ambassador for adoptees. For the little girl in the viral video, I feel pain for her because I see that possible future for her and more so because of the public nature of the video and how it’s being used.
If you haven’t yet been in a community of friends and family where the seemingly perfect couple break up or divorce to the complete surprise of you or those around you – give it time. If you haven’t yet stumbled on the fact that one or more of your loved ones have been suffering with depression or mental health problems for decades without you knowing, perhaps even without them knowing, I suspect you’re in a minority. I hope that you never have and never will have to wonder about the true nature of a loved ones’ state of mind after they take their own life.
Even those who pay close attention to the wellbeing and feelings of others can and will be misguided about the deep-seated fears and fragility of others. Our society is a boot camp in emotional armoury, perfectionism and side-lining feelings.
If you’re not an adoptee, I talk about this in the hope that you can recall a time you were mistaken about someone or some part of yourself, perhaps revisit what you think you know about those you care for and learn how to look a little deeper and trust the lived experiences of adoptees instead of discounting them.
If you hang around adoptees long enough with an open mind, you’ll see some universal themes emerge, and likely discover that we don’t know what we think we do. If you can allow for that, we can begin to be more honest with ourselves and others about what we do and don’t know. You can listen and inquire with humility, kindness and willingness to learn from those willing to share. Help us do better to define the real issues, recognise the biases holding back progress and build the right support for adoptees.