Recently I was trapped in a thirty four thousand seat arena for over three hours.
How’s that? You say.
My unfortunate and unlikely predicament stemmed from the location of our seats at the Navy football game in Annapolis, MD. Almost immediately, we realized we were sitting in the alumni section, directly in front of three graduates who were back in town for their twenty-year homecoming reunion.
We discovered all this information in a matter of minutes, because the trio behind us never stopped talking. No touchdown, penalty or rousing band number would dissuade these men from saying whatever trivial thought entered their head at any moment.
Have you ever been trying to sleep and there is that one mosquito buzzing in your ear?
I had three. For over three hours. Would that I had a giant fly-swatter.
The afternoon wore on like Chinese water-torture. Toxic conversation spilled over my shoulders, rubbing my sensibilities raw. The men’s banter was not overtly abusive or loud. Rather, it was pervasively petty and shallow. I started to wonder who in their right mind would want to marry these guys?
No subject or person was exempt from sarcasm or demeaning observations, all delivered in a bored and superior tone. And the depth of subject matter for the entire afternoon? A thimble would certainly hold more.
Throughout the game, I became privy to barbed bits about their wives, children, jobs and even churches. Sadly, I now know their most awkward co-workers, hated neighbors and former girlfriends. How can I forget their snide descriptions about the physical attributes of each member of the women’s lacrosse team as they took the field to be recognized?
Did I mention I was trapped for three hours?
I kept thinking “Is there anything these men won’t belittle or reduce for a quick laugh? Are they really this shallow?”
It would be unsettling in any arena, but in this patriotic, historic and heroic place, it was particularly so. I wanted to reach over and cover my three boys’ ears.
“These guys are common”, my husband whispered after an hour, noting my distress. Common is one of his favorite descriptive terms gleaned from his grandfather who was a coal-miner in the mountains of West Virginia.
According to Paw Paw, who completed high school before entering the mines for the rest of his life, being “common” meant displaying a notable lack of graciousness, a person without inner character.
Despite his lack of formal education, Paw Paw was not common.
Ah, the irony.
These men had graduated from one of the most character forming institutions in the land, and yet twenty years later were showing no obvious character of note. They pounced on every flaw, had nothing uplifting to say at all, and seemed totally and physically incapable of any verbal restraint whatsoever.
It was disappointing.
Aloof and obviously well-educated, I am sure the men had plenty of valuable connections available at their fingertips. They were articulate and not unattractive (if you didn’t have to listen to them) and likely would make a very good first impression in an interview, especially with their Naval Academy pedigree paving the way.
Because the air was foul with the smell of weakness. It reeked of real human potential gone bad. Laziness and cowardice hiding behind pathetic punch-lines. Paw Paw’s famous “common” on display.
This is not how fathers, husbands and leaders should speak. Men should exhibit more depth in their interaction, as even a coal miner could tell you. Individuals blessed with so many opportunities should not have to persistently lessen others for a laugh. They should, at the very least, have more interesting things to say!
Character, that inner self that values doing the right thing at all times, is not bestowed automatically to those able to enjoy higher education and training. Leadership, or the ability to build others up, also doesn’t just happen.
Both leadership, and the lack thereof, takes years of training one way or another.
Maturity and substance become evident when I show restraint and care with my words, whether on the job or not. However, a practiced and ready habit of noting failure and flaws at every turn gives me away for the commoner that I am. When I routinely cannot find and the beauty or the gifts of others, I have no substance myself.
What verbal habits am I cultivating in my “down time” when I am not working and I think no one is listening?
If you are lucky enough to be around a true leader (and many graduate from the Naval Academy!), you will notice that you genuinely enjoy the conversation and the company. You won’t feel belittled, nor are you uncomfortable because someone else is being skewered. There is an easy hospitality present.
You feel safe.
Good leaders are are remarkable and rare because they don’t need to reduce others as the rest of the world does. Rather, they are always adding worth and weight, and even warmth to the people and the conversations around them. When you are with them, you are safe.
Do my words build or reduce? What do my words give away? Who is edified when I speak? Do others feel safe?
Words point directly to the condition of the soul who utters them. Words also indicate what I think about the sacred souls who’ve been gathered around me.
May your eyes and words notice the good in others, today.
Grace and peace to you from the farm!