Growing up, I was sure. I liked being the person who had the answers and I still do. I enjoy being the person that can find them out even if I don’t know them. My curiosity is very strong, but I grew up being taught that curiosity for its own sake wasn’t right. We didn’t ask questions to ask questions, we asked them to get answers. When I got to college, I had answers. Unlike many of my other classmates, I was unafraid of sharing them even on topics I had no business sharing them on. I had a reputation to for speaking up and being super talkative. But I wasn’t asking, I was telling.
One time a professor started a discussion on Black Christianity by talking about its relationship with the Nation of Islam. She described some of the shared points and some of the differences and asked if it was still Christianity. Nope, I said. This wasn’t what she wanted to hear. Another time a professor told us that some guns were actually manufactured smaller and easier to use so that children soldiers in Africa could use them with less difficulty. She said this matter-of-factly in passing. My face apparently said quite a lot, I’m sure the look was thoroughly incredulous. She seemed dispassionate, but looked at me intrigued and slightly pleased. She enjoyed being challenged. That’s how I learn best. Sticking my foot in my mouth armed with shallow information and ready to argue my flimsy point against the experts, and failing. Miserably failing. It really is a beautiful thing. You never forget these kinds of lessons where you desperately want to prove someone wrong and instead prove them right. The shame of falling on one’s face, especially in front of another person lingers. I learned that I deal with this in two ways. Either I double down even though I know I’m wrong and plow on by creating straw men, or I humble myself and admit it. Try as I might to choose the latter our brains are hardwired to defend our worldview. I’ll totally blame the brain. Truth be told, I hate being wrong. But then again, I relish it. I love encountering a new truth that I thought was nuts. It’s exciting and there’s something so nice about not knowing everything.
A new realization could smack you in the face like a cupboard tomorrow and maybe you’ll laugh or maybe you’ll punch it and hurt your hand too. But if that realization comes attached to a person’s individual story, I hope I choose neither. As many of my foot-in-mouth moments have taught me, when I’m hearing someone’s experience I should, for the love of them, shut up. It’s hard not to enter into other people’s life story without bringing our own baggage or disbelief or judgment. My aim has always been empathetic learning. I want people’s experiences to matter to me, to change the way I see my own world. For that to happen, I have to sit down and just listen. When people share their pain with you, they don’t want you to be their inner tape of “what could I have done? Or why didn’t I?” They’ll stop sharing if you stop just listening. I’m great at hearing experiences very different from mine that unseat me. What I never learned to cope with is how to hear experiences like mine be looked at so very differently. It’s why talking with my family is so fraught. I have so many expectations of them that come from my reality and attached to my soul. Their different experience is not at all relatable to me because I couldn’t see it that way and I can’t just take their word for it because there are already so many in my own mouth. I know it’s a humility issue, so someday I’ll fall on my face a bunch and stick my foot in my mouth a bunch and I’ll learn this lesson too. Someday.