Burrard Toastmasters
Vancouver's leading business-oriented public speaking club
Club Speeches

Consider Yourself Warned

Winning speech, 2008-2009 Club Humourous Speech Contest
Winning speech, 2008-2009 Area 71 Humourous Speech Contest
By Jennifer Kelley

I am living proof that society hasn't learned a thing about how to raise children.

Generations upon generations of us are brought into the world and entrusted to our mostly well meaning guardians… guardians who see it as their responsibility to keep us safe, keep us from harm, to guard us from danger. Their advice normally centers on three themes: don't do that, don't say that, don't touch that. "It's dangerous" they tell us, "You'll get hurt". But you remember being a kid — as children, we don't listen to the whole warning. Our selective, highly attuned sense of hearing edits out the negative, and our curiosity takes hold. Example: George Bush Sr says to George Bush Jr: "Ensure you consult the Vice President before you push the red button to launch the missile." George Bush Jr hears "blah blah blah push the red button to launch the missile!"

Fellow Toastmasters, the more we warn of danger, the more likely it is that those we warn will actually fall prey to it. That's right — the more we focus on safety, the more it backfires. If kids are made to feel safer — through wearing a helmet when riding a bike, or being looked after by a babysitter — they raise their risk tolerance to a much higher level of danger. I have a personal story from my childhood that I think illustrates the point well. It involves a gerbil, a hospital emergency room, a Hungarian babysitter, and a certain part of my body.

I was 5 years old, and at home with my brother who was 12. My parents were going out that evening and had hired a babysitter to look after us. She was a lovely young Hungarian woman, new to Canada, with limited English language ability. My brother had a gerbil as a pet. Gerbils are small rodents with long tails, sort of like a domesticated mouse. I had tried for weeks to get at the cage and be able to hold the gerbil. He wouldn't let me. "You're not old enough to hold the gerbil. They bite, you know. You can't have a gerbil of your own until you're at least as old as me."

Well. As he was leaving to play outside with friends, he pointed at the cage, and said to the babysitter, "Don't let Jennifer play with the gerbil!" The danger was identified; the warning was clear. As soon as I heard the door shut behind him, I ran straight to the gerbil cage. On my tip toes, I opened the door of the cage, and slowly reached inside with the delicacy and determination of a secret agent diffusing a bomb. I could sense the conditions were good—there was no danger — my brother was gone, the babysitter was nowhere in sight. My awkward little hand chased the gerbil around the cage and finally, I got hold of it and slowly lifted the squirming, hairy little thing out. It was so cute. Little feet, little nose, little whiskers, little brown eyes! I held it a little closer to my face, to get a better look… and that was the last thing I remember that evening.

I woke up in the emergency room of the local hospital later that night. Surrounding the bed were doctors and nurses doubled over in choruses of laughter. I spotted the babysitter there too, her hands covering her face in anxious amazement. My nose was really sore. I reached up to touch it and they all shouted "No, No! Don't touch your nose!" During the face to face encounter, the gerbil had bit my 5 year old nose, not just lightly or with any sense of affection. No, it had bitten it with such force that the gerbil had gotten lockjaw, which prevented the babysitter from prying open the mouth of the gerbil in order to liberate it from my proboscis, to which it had become precariously and, it seemed at the time, permanently attached. The babysitter had phoned my father, pleading desperately in broken English, "the girl, there is mouse on her nose", she pleaded with my father over the phone, "I must take her to hospital."

A while later, my anxious and bewildered parents arrived at the hospital and received the news from the doctor, who could barely stop his laughter long enough to explain what had happened. "Mr. and Mrs. Kelley, I have good news and bad news. The good news is: we have successfully removed the rodent from your daughter's nose. The bad news is: the gerbil is dead."

I share this story for the benefit of all of us, for children and for gerbils everywhere. To prevent tragedies such as this, you must stop warning children of the dangers of life. Please, stop giving them ideas. If WE assume the responsibility for safety of children, it encourages THEM take MORE RISKS. Let them learn for themselves, and get a scar on their nose to prove it.

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