My wife, Candice, and I work in the preschool room at church from time to time.  As you might imagine, there are many humorous interactions with the kids each time we volunteer.  One such interaction was as follows:
 
Candice was sitting on the floor with the group of kids as the singing/story time was about to start.  I was standing behind the group and overheard her conversation with one of them.“Your shoes are on the wrong feet.” She said to one of the boys.[note: his shoes were, in fact, on the wrong feet]He responded, “oh, yeah.  Well… they make some shoes to go on both feet now”
 
When I was done giggling at this child’s rationalization of his mistake, another interaction I had observed popped into mind. 
 
A Similar Story From the Other End of the Spectrum
 
This was not with someone very young, but rather, with someone very old. 

I stayed with my grandfather for about a week several years ago.  One night after dinner at a restaurant we ran into someone he knew in the parking lot.  They were talking, catching up, and my grandfather asked her about her husband.  The woman replied that he had passed away some time before.  My grandpa responded,
“oh, well, I’ve been out of town traveling for a while”
 
Another statement spoken to cover a simple mistake.
Gramps may have traveled recently to my aunt or uncle’s houses, but he certainly hadn’t been out of town as long as the lady mentioned; he was getting forgetful at that point in his life.  That’s not really the point though, the lady didn’t seem offended that he didn’t know or had forgotten.  She hadn’t responded to his question angrily; for example, “How could you bring that up! Don’t you remember that my husband is dead?!”
My observation in this story is not that he forgot, it’s that he came up with something to say to brush over his completely understandable mistake. 
 
 
Talking to Cover
 
“Covering” is what we do in response to shame. 
We sense something is wrong deep within ourselves and we pile thoughts and actions on top of it so that we don’t have to face it.  Often this covering happens verbally, reactively, when we’re afraid our inadequacies are about to be exposed. 
 
I wonder how much conversation is “covering”.
Much like the preschooler and my grandfather, we all try to cover our mistakes.
 
Some things are legitimate, acceptable deficiencies with who we are.
…like being young and not yet learning how to tie one’s shoes.
…like being old and staring to forget some things here and there.
Or… like not knowing the thing that everyone around you is talking about.
 
It’s not just the very young and the very old that do this.  All of us in between do the same thing everyday.  How much of what you say is a reaction to not wanting those around you to know that you’re not as cool as you want them to think you are?
…or as smart.
…or as spiritual.
 
My Story and …Yours?
 
I’ll give you a simple example from my own life.

Sometimes a colleague will ask if I’ve heard of some theory or some author or some book. I might reply, “hmmm… I’m not sure, but that sounds familiar”

Have I heard of it? maybe.
Do I have a solid grasp of the concept being discussed?  Probably not.
Do I have a deep fear that others won’t think I’m smart, accomplished, good at my job, etc.? Yes.
Is it possible that I’ve convinced myself that it sounds “familiar” because that’s easier than just admitting that I don’t know something I think I should know? Totally.
 
 
What do you say to make sure other people think highly of you?
How do you fill the silence when you get uncomfortable with it?
 
What are you ashamed of? 
What are you afraid others will know about you?
Verbalize it to yourself.
Try to verbalize it to others. 

 

 

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One Response to What Do You Say?

  1. Chelsea says:

    “Covering is what we do in response to shame.” That statement automatically conjures fig leaves in the Garden for me. Nice play on words, Jared.

    This reminds me of my freshman year of college. I was so insecure and afraid I wasn’t “enough”, that if I didn’t know something (in conversation with a peer, not so much in class), I would make an educated guess, and pull it off sounding like an expert. I’m a class A Bull Sh*tter. Finally, my roommate started responding to my made up answers: “You don’t really know that, do you?” She totally called me out on my pride, and I had to unlearn an engrained habit over many months. I’m getting more comfortable in my skin and admitting when I don’t know something–but there are still certain situations where I am afraid… Perhaps I will be taken advantage of, if I admit my lack of knowledge? thought less of? be spoken to in a patronizing tone of voice?

    I was terribly afraid to attend an intellectually rigorous book club that my friends hosted (or even to try reading and discussing), because I thought for sure my intelligence was lacking and would be called into question in a horribly public way. Once I actually went, I discovered: I don’t know everything, and neither does anyone else… but the process of trying to exercise my brain was rewarding enough (and no one made fun of me).

    Anyway—just the thoughts off the top of my head. Thanks for the article!

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