Oct 15, 2012
“Truth is delivered in yellow boxes.”
That was my first thought when I saw this popular little graphic posted last week. Then I saw it a few more times, and had a few more thoughts.
Guilt, at first, if I’m honest. You mean that the grumpy morning voice enquiring as to how the school shoes can possibly have disappeared overnight, AGAIN, will end up providing the timbre for Jimmy’s inner monologue for the next eighty years?
It’s a hugely resonant thought. Any parents, or indeed anyone who’s ever had parents can identify with it. And the way it was expressed in this quote… so clear, so stark. The voice. That’s where the sound comes from. Must be true. Says so on the internet. Has a zillion Likes.
It’s not a bad thought, of course. Nothing malicious about it. It carries some truth, I’m sure. Parental influence shapes one’s inner life, along with stories, games, teachers, friends, wider society, religion and all the rest. Of course the sound of one’s parents plays a part. Of course the act of treating our kids with greater consideration, mindful of being That Voice In Their Heads For Evah, is for the good.
So nothing wrong here?
Except, except, except… It just didn’t resonate with me in terms of actually applying to me. I could see it plausibly applying to everyone else, but did my inner voice sound like either of my parents? Actually sound like? Or even use similar speech patterns? Not so much. I asked a (very small) sample of others. Same.
Time to look at where it came from. To look for the evidence behind the claim. And that became a bit tricky. When you have a hugely popular soundbite like that, searching for a source only brings back references to the quote itself, over and over again.
The site referenced at the bottom of the quote, TheSilverPen, were only responsible for the formatting of the typeset graphic, and of course sharing the version that I spotted. But when I contacted Hollye there, she didn’t know where it originated. “I wish I could tell you where I found the quote, but I have absolutely no idea. I collect quotes from books, magazines, newspapers and online… then convert them into graphics and off I go,” she wrote.
So I wrote to Peggy O’Mara herself. Peggy is publisher, editor and owner of Mothering magazine, a long-standing US publication. She happily provided the original source, an editorial from Mothering Issue #128, Jan-Feb 2005.
Here it is, with a little more context:
When I think of a mothers’ movement, I don’t think of only one organizing group or one cause. I think of a vast array of networks, a web of organizations working to increase awareness and to influence social change. All parts of the web are important, just as all kinds of social action are important. A mothers’ movement is really about finding and expressing your voice as a mother. Here are some actions you can take to feel part of a mothers’ movement. Some take only a little time, but their results are long-lasting. Others are easier to accomplish when children are older. All are valuable. You can perform them in sequence or just pick and choose.
See your mothering as a political act. The way you talk to your child becomes his or her inner voice. The way you model acceptance of your own body becomes the way your daughter learns to accept hers. The way you model the distribution of chores in the household provides a blueprint for your children’s marriages. Bringing consciousness and awareness to the small acts of your life with your family can change the world. Your mothering is enough.
The wording of the quote in question was later tidied up a bit, and it probably gained its standalone popularity after inclusion in the 2009 Mothering calendar, when images were paired with a quote for each month of the year.
So that’s what it is. Part of a series of assertions and opinions. They’re coherent, but they’re not robust research findings. Neither do they pretend to be. Peggy isn’t, and makes no claim to be, a development psychologist or any other type of scientist.
But on the internet, any sufficiently resonant claim can be picked up, turned into a graphic, and accelerated to the point where it not only swamps a search result around the topic in question, but is very likely to be assumed into popular thinking as a “fact”.
“Hey, Sue, you know when you talk to your kids, that’s the voice they’ll have in their heads for the rest of their lives” – “Oh, really??” – “Yeah, google it if you don’t believe me.”
So whenever you see any startling insight that makes you stop and think, use the “stop” bit to question it in a little more detail before just merrily sending it on to all your friends.
Here are a couple more of those quotes as handy reminders. Go on, share them why don’t you?
And this one, which is probably the most valid of them all:
You can quote me on that.