A year ago, my wife said to me, “I need you to do me a favor.” I knew that was bad news. A charity she is heavily involved with, Half the Sky, was planning an event in Chicago and she had volunteered me to be the speaker.
In principle, this was no big deal. I speak in front of groups all the time. I can talk about Freakonomics, SuperFreakonomics, and my academic research in my sleep.
I knew immediately, however, that this speech would be completely different. Although I often tell stories about myself and my life, they are never stories about emotions. I am one of the most closed off people you’ll ever find when it comes to emotional topics. I have never learned, or really even tried to learn how to express emotions. I’m not proud of this, it just is the truth.
There was no way, however, that I could speak at a Half the Sky event without opening up my emotions. Half the Sky is an amazing charity – perhaps one of the world’s best – doing incredible work with Chinese orphanages. The only events that ever fully penetrated my emotional wall were the death of my son Andrew and the subsequent, deeply moving process of adopting a daughter (eventually two daughters) from China. More than a decade later, the emotions associated with these two events remain shockingly raw, hiding just below the surface.
I know I love my wife because there is nothing I would rather do less than stand in front of a crowd talking about these things. But I also knew that there was nothing in the world that would mean more to her than my doing it. Not primarily because it would help Half the Sky, but rather, because she rightfully wishes I weren’t such an emotional invalid. For once, I decided not to be selfish.
You can see the speech here, and also watch it below. I can think of few other things in my life that I am more glad to have done, after the fact. All the same, I don’t plan on doing anything like it again for a long, long time.