This phrase, “Out of the Mouths of Babes” comes from a Bible passage referring to the surprising wisdom of children. We use it in everyday language to remark in wonder at what children – the young and inexperienced – sometimes say to us.
I am 41. About a year ago, someone more senior to me said this in my presence, referring to something I had just said. It pushed my buttons. Yes, this person was older than me. But I am not a child, and the use of the phrase for something I said at 40 years old felt incredibly condescending.
I have become a tad sensitive about this type of thing in the last couple of years. The comments I’d occasionally get from my elders about how young I am – how I wouldn’t get a reference to something “before my time,” has started to grate on my nerves. In my teens and 20’s I thought nothing of it. To be fair, they were right. But as I progressed through my 30’s, these comments that were tossed in my direction without much thought started to really bother me.
In the last 6 months, someone called me “kiddo” and another remarked several times within the same conversation, “you are probably too young to remember, but” or “one day you’ll understand this.” And, just today, someone made a reference to a very well-known icon, then suggested I probably hadn’t heard of her, and gave me someone more contemporary to soothe my ignorance.
I realize these things are never said with ill-intent. In fact, I think it’s probably just the opposite: they are said in an attempt to endear me. But let me tell you, it’s never felt that way. It’s just always felt like someone older was reminding me once again that I hadn’t reached some pinnacle of accomplishment, or some height of wisdom. It’s this imaginary line in the sky that keeps inching away from me as I inch closer to it, never to touch it.
To make matters worse, I look young. I am mistaken for being ten years younger than I am. Champagne problems I know, but I have actually wished for some gray hair and more laugh lines just to nudge people away from the assumption.
Throughout my career, people referred to the 20-year mark as being the sign of a true senior professional. This year, I rejoiced that I had finally hit that mark. Then, last week, how to define what a senior professional is actually came up in conversation and someone actually suggested that we define it at 30 years. My exasperation peaked. Come on, people!
What this has taught me is to be very careful about the way I speak to my contemporaries. I have vowed not to use the phrase, “you’re probably too young to remember, but” unless I am talking to a 14 year old, who probably is indeed too young to remember. I will not suggest to my younger colleagues that they “will one day understand” and I will aim to always make them feel as though they are my equal, now that we’re all officially adults.
Now, anyone know how I could get the folks on the other side of my age to commit to this as well?