Do you ever relive moments that make you cringe, even years or decades later? Maybe it was how you reacted to someone or maybe it was something you said. Maybe it was a moment of vulnerability that went badly or perhaps it was a moment of insensitivity you wish you could rewrite.
In college my group of friends was typical for our age and space. (Though we would have argued we were vastly different from our peers!) We grappled with life and faith, read philosophers and theologians, smoked occasional cigarettes as we discussed Big Issues over espressos at Parisian cafes.
A certain subset of this group took things even farther, going deeper, taking pilgrimages, and really exploring the postmodern church. (These were the days before emergent entered our lexicon.) While I was fairly well-read in these areas, I was nowhere near the level of this smaller group. While at parties or at cafes, I could follow along a bit, but usually ended up nodding along, letting them do the talking.
At my going away party, another Big Discussion was happening and I kind of drifted off. By this time, I was tired of thinking about my faith and ready to live it. At some point in the conversation, of of the guys said, “Let’s change the subject. Annie doesn’t know what we’re talking about.” I know he didn’t mean it to sound harsh, but I was mortified. I thought I had done a fairly good job of nodding along.
Looking back, I wish my younger self had the courage to say I don’t know. Those words can be so difficult. They admit a deficiency, a lack of understanding, a certain way of putting myself as less than. They also would have saved me from embarrassing moments, when clearly I didn’t know what others were talking about.
Those three words also open doors. They allow someone else to be the expert – something most of us love. They give a certain vulnerability, yes, but also an underlying confidence in being open and willing to learn. They also let me off the hook for being an expert on everything. Had I simply said, “I didn’t know that! Tell me more!” I would have been able to stay in the conversation without the same expectation of participation.
Years later, these words can still be hard for me to say. I like to think I’m a well-read person, able to converse on a wide range of topics. This diversity in reading shouldn’t mean I’m an expert, though. This unwillingness to let others teach can build barriers rather than relationships.
Allowing others to tell me more and honoring their own experiences and knowledge is such a small but powerful way to show love. I guess some of that comes with maturity, but I wish my 22-year-old self had the confidence, the courage, and the self-awareness to let others teach and be the experts rather than trying to compete.
So now, whether discussing life experiences, faith journeys, political views, parenting practices, or any topic in between, I am practicing the art of listening. Of saying I don’t know. And, perhaps most importantly, following the I don’t know with Tell me more.
What do you wish you could tell your younger self? Are you a listener or an expert?
Linked with The High Calling’s A Letter to My Younger Self.