A couple weeks ago, I attended my high school reunion and saw several friends I haven’t seen for many years. One of them is now a mother of four and a missionary in China. Almost immediately after exchanging initial greetings she said, “Back in High School, we got in an argument and you said that kids don’t look at your mouth when they are learning how to pronounce things and I said they do. All of my children look at my mouth as they are learning to talk, so…” I quickly conceded the point to her and wondered why on earth would I have thought to take a stand on how children learn to speak back in High School!?!?
Later in the evening, I caught up with a friend who is now a pediatrician in Texas. Again, almost immediately after greeting me he said, “Back in that American studies class, you and I got into an argument about whether Compact Discs or Digitial Audio Tape would win and I said CD’s”. So apparently I was the proponent of fairly ridiculous ideas back in High School. I admitted that he was clearly right. Who must I have been in High School that many years later, the strongest memory of not one, but two different people was arguing about a very specific thing where I was clearly wrong.
I expressed this out loud at the dinner table and they all confirmed that I really liked to argue in High School. It didn’t matter what side I was on. I have vague memories of this since I was on the debate team, but sometime in college I realized that I was often wrong and that’s okay. I’d rather just concede and be on the right side. Moreover, I learned that arguing wasn’t very effective for conflict resolution. It also helped that my younger brother started following my lead and argued everything when he started High School which made me think, “Wow, that’s really obnoxious. I should stop doing that”.
I’m still completely up for a good contest of ideas when it’s not personal and often make strong arguments for an idea, not for the hope that I will be seen as right, but instead for the hope that someone will show me how I’m wrong. Ultimately, I’d like to find the best and strongest idea than have it be my idea. I’ve had to learn to temper that desire though. As a good friend told me, “If you sound like you completely know what the right answer is, it will cause others to just acquiesce and not engage in helping sharpen your idea. They will simply think that you know what you’re doing and not even try to figure out how it could be better. Sometimes your strength is a little like a bull in a china shop and that situation calls for a little more delicacy.” Indeed.
It’s hard for us to remember who we were. We tend to think we are as we always have been. Of course, when we make a sudden shift in mindset, we remember the before and after, but most of our shifts happen gradually over years. When that happens, we don’t really remember who we were before because the change, like aging, happens so gradually. I’m still learning to read the situation and decide when questions would be better than making lots of statements, though I can see I’ve come a long way.
Just as old photos show us how we are aging, going back and talking to friends that haven’t seen you for years can be a great mirror for remembering who we were because rarely will we be able to do that without significant help.