Since I wrote recently about how I dreaded situations where I might be forced to wear t-shirts, someone asked me what else was on my list of phobias.
It is short, the list of things I dread. I’m not a fearful person. But here are some other things I try to avoid.
I don’t mind real smiles, and I suppose there may be a “real” smiley face. But I try to avoid getting stuck in elevators or conversations with sweet, syrupy people. And while I can handle an emoticon or two, they seem like poor substitutes for better words or richer contexts. Some people talk with smiley faces, everlasting cheerleaders in an ever-ending high school.
The thing that annoys me in type as much as smiley faces, and even more than ALL CAPS, is multiple exclamation points!!!!!. And by extension, the people who make them in conversation. I’m uncomfortable around loud people and usually the opinions that come with them. Nothing is ever true because you say it more often and with more emphasis.
Both the people who talk too loud or who smile too much are likely to show up at places where you are required to wear name tags. I could do a whole post on the problem of name tags, but I’ll spare you. Today at least.
Let’s just say, if you want to know my name you should ask me. I don’t even mind if you forgot. I probably forgot yours too. But you don’t know me if you just read my name. Name tags often spark very superficial conversations when what we need are real ones.
These are the events where you have to wear name tags and hang out with people who use too many exclamation points or smiley faces, eating small food and talking about small ideas. I hate mixers. I know it sounds like I’m antisocial, but I’m actually just more introverted than people assume, given my many public responsibilities.
I’m getting better at these events, however. Even my wife would say so. In fact she has taught me how much more important it is to sit and have one or two conversations that matter rather than many conversations that don’t.
This is not easy. I was a quite, bookish kid, often either overlooked or mocked at school. By the time I got to college my defense was to talk too loud and tell too many jokes. In my worst moments I can still do this. And in my best moments I remember that those things I react to most are reflections of myself.
So I’m learning to overlook the exclamation points and see the passions behind them. I can even recognize a smile, although I still react to people who laugh too much or love too little. The truth is I’ve always preferred observing people to interacting with them. I’m just glad that is not how God for Christ’s sake responded to me.
And so becoming more gracious is my learning edge, the place I stretch and grow. I’ve found the world is filled with people who share my fears, just waiting for someone to speak to them or understand them, regardless of how loud or sweet they are or appear to be.
Grace is a good thing and I’ve received a lot of it. It is in our weaknesses that we finally understand that.
And it is in our vulnerability that conversations finally flourish.
No name tags required.