Recently I had the chance to drop my kids off at my in-laws in the middle of the day so I took the opportunity to take a mid-day run. Outside the masons were working on our house addition. When I returned there was only one of them here and we talked a little before I went in for my shower.
The man said nothing offensive to me. He did not ogle me. He did not attempt to touch me. He wasn’t particularly creepy and as a matter of fact he was friendly and talkative.
So why did I feel a little worried about going inside alone to take a shower with him outside?
You could say it was just because there was a strange man outside and I was a woman alone but I’m normally over-trusting (maybe to a fault). If it was one of the other contractors outside I am certain I wouldn’t have given it a second thought.
So why did I ultimately decide to lock the bathroom door before I disrobed and got into the shower? I felt silly doing it; quite sure the man was busy with his work and friendly at that. I doubted doing it. I questioned myself.
“Did he seem creepy?” I ask myself. “Did he SAY anything weird?”
“Should I ask one of the other guys when I get a chance if I have any reason to be concerned?”
No, no, and no again. I can ask every person this man has ever known if I should be worried about being alone with him like that and it STILL doesn’t matter. Why? Because a voice inside me told me to use caution and I need to listen to that voice.
The way I see it, intuition is a gift leftover from our caveman days. We don’t need it anymore to scout out food and shelter and it only rarely perks up to warn us of danger. When it does happen, we have a habit of talking ourselves out of listening to it. Over time, we learn to distrust and ignore it.
It’s hard to listen to that voice. We feel silly making a decision based on a feeling instead of fact. There may not ever be any proof that listening to our intuitions was helpful or the right thing to do. We’re a culture that likes evidence and with intuition you usually don’t get any. But if we systematically disregard it for smaller dangers, we could potentially find ourselves walking right into a larger one some day, tuning it out the entire time.
When I realized I was trying to ignore my intuition, I told myself to stop the doubting and LISTEN. And lock the door.
Why should I do differently for myself than I try to teach my children to do? Trying to teach them to listen to their own intuitions is as hard as listening to my own but I think it’s imperative. I cannot possibly teach them to stay safe while simultaneously teaching them to doubt that inner voice.
But that is exactly what I almost did do to my son G once. One day when he was about 5 years old, an older man stopped by to pick something up I offered on freecycle. We met him outside, he was tickled by the yard and playing kids. I thought he was personable and charming but G hid behind a tree while I talked with him.
I taught them from a young age they are the bosses of their own bodies, so they never have had to hug or kiss anyone (relatives, etc.) that they didn’t want to. I did always expect them to be polite though, saying “goodbye” or “thank you” when appropriate.
After the man left, I asked G why he was hiding and didn’t say “goodbye” to the man. He said he didn’t like him.
“Why? He was nice!” I said.
“I just didn’t like him, I wanted him to go.”
I found myself about to say the kinds of things I have heard adults say my entire life, something like “don’t be silly, he was a perfectly nice man.” I was about to teach my son to second-guess himself. Luckily I realized what opportunity had just been dropped into my lap: to teach my son to listen to that voice. Just because I felt comfortable with that man does not mean my son had to. His intuition told him to be scared of someone, so he hid. I hugged him and told him that he absolutely did the right thing.
Now when we have our occasional discussions about various safety issues (What’s your phone number? What are/who can touch your private parts? What would you do if a friend wanted to show you a real gun at their house?) I throw in another question: “What would you do if you were at a friend’s house and for some reason you just felt kind of uncomfortable being there?”
Answer: whatever you need to do to get out of there. You don’t need proof; you don’t need to feel bad about it. You can even lie and say you are sick and need to go home. Whatever you do, don’t shut down that voice. Listen to your intuition, children. Listen.