Updated: May 26
I think it's time I tell you about how I got here, and why I am staying for a while.
My name is Peyton Dracco, at least that's how most of my associates know me, and it's worth noting that I have been known by many names before; however, that is a story for another time.
It was June 18th of 1991, a date that often seems longer in the past than it is, when I arrived in Toronto, Canada. My nuclear family (parents and two sisters) had decided to immigrate here for several reasons; safety, the opportunity for financial growth, and an overall better standard of living. There are details of our transition into Canadian life that may be worth mentioning in the future because they shaped how I see the world today, and I will share them in time. Perhaps the most critical aspect of my transition was language. I was born in Ecuador, a small country on the North West corner of South America, and turned 13 years old my first few weeks living in a country where Spanish (the official language of Ecuador) was not very popular.
Ecuador takes its name from the Equatorial line or The Equator that crosses it from east to west at the capital city of Quito. It is a beautiful part of the world known for its incredible scenery, mega-diversity, and very happy people. Unfortunately for many of us, the nineteen-nineties were not a good decade for that area.
Fast forward to September of 91, the beginning of the Canadian school year, when little old me had to attend Cardinal Carter Catholic High-school in the city of Aurora about 30 minutes north of Toronto. My father's employment and familial circumstances had taken us to the small, quaint town — a marvellous opportunity for discovery — one that would seem hindered by my inability to form proper sentences in the local dialect. My dad had done his best to acquaint my sisters and me with the English language, but there are many reasons dads don't make good subject matter teachers to their children… we're wired to listen to them about less abstract notions than language and math, per se; my wiring was no exception.
We, however (and here I point to those of you willing to entertain evolutionary theory), are wired to survive. The first two months of school were difficult. From my inability to understand most if not all, of what my teachers were saying, to failing to communicate appropriately with Charlene Stevens, who caught my eye the very moment I met her. (and I mean this literally, she was waving her hands excitedly about something another student had said and as she turned poked me so hard in my right eye making my nose run). I was struggling to make friends.
Funny, you would think, that I had been thrown into this swim or sink predicament, which makes you a bit of pervert, but yes, there are many reasons to laugh at my adolescent adventures. I was odd and doing my best to adapt, but it is not my talent for getting into trouble without too many words that I want to talk about here, though I might appeal to your inner sadist by telling you about those troubles later… no, it's a different skill set that I want to share with you.
Amid all my confusion, I knew more about the people around me than I had realised. I understood their behaviour at a subconscious level, and I knew what they intended without understanding what they said. No, I was not psychic, though I successfully pretended to be on several subsequent opportunities including profitably in my adult years (all to prove a point as the money and attention were simple bonuses).
I was reading their body language; I could see and interpret the subtle cues of emotion in their faces and bodies as they attempted to speak to me. It wasn’t always accurate, but I would submit that it was most of the time. Lacking conversational skills, I had to infer meaning from the communication I could get: nonverbal communication. I could almost tell with certainty when one of my peers liked me or disliked me by their positioning towards me; their angular distance; the way they held their hands and arms. If I paid attention to their feet and knees I knew whether or not they wanted to stick around or run away looking for someone else to talk to; all I had to do was pay attention to their bodies.
This skill, it occurred to me later on in life, was not new; I had simply become more aware of it due to a different type of stress. Living in a developing country where crime and violence were considered normal, my safety, or at least the feeling of security, depended on how well I could see signs of danger. It was not unexpected in my neighbourhood to have to dodge bullets. Having to walk through gangs keen on recruiting you, was an everyday exercise, which made me aware of people’s gestures towards me. The significance of these gestures brought with it an understanding of human behaviour I only began to conceptualise in my mid-twenties, when I made the conscious choice to explore something that at the time I attributed to mere intuition. I will write about this choice in another story.
Reading people, as it is commonly referred to, isn’t difficult but we are generally bad at it. Science tells us that we miss a large percentage of the communication we receive from the world around us, and there are many valid reasons for this, but this doesn’t mean we cannot improve on it, either out of necessity or through consistent training.
The moral of my story is that becoming engaged in improving our ability to read and interpret nonverbal communication can have tremendously positive effects on our psychological and emotional well-being, and in turn, on our lives in general. I still don’t know what that other student said to Charlene Stevens, but I knew that she was sorry about having knocked the snot out of me on the first day of eighth grade. Her genuinely apologetic smiles, which eventually moved onto long, comfortable embraces and well-placed kisses on my eye communicated more to me than words could say. The emblematic gestures of her movements towards me told me that she genuinely meant what she was trying to say to me.
We are, after all, wired to survive, to adapt to change. Our most basic brain structures possess the mechanisms for different levels of communication that we seem to largely ignore but can be very useful to our social success. I will share more about my journey in future stories, including how I was recruited to use my abilities for special purposes by the government; how I still implement it in my coaching and maintaining a profitable business.
To be continued…
Originally posted on Medium