My friend Angy got in a car accident on Saturday. She said it was mostly her fault, but the man whose car she bumped into treated her very poorly. His tone went from kindly apologetic, to patronizing, to acidic when Angy didn’t fall into the role of the quiet, obliging woman. He told her that he didn’t want to get the police involved, lied about his part in the accident and when she tried to disagree, put his hand upon her arm and patronizingly told her, “Let’s not argue.” Once the police came, he spoke for both of them, and then spitefully insisted a report be filed although the police informed them it wasn’t necessary. Angy was holding her crying, thirsty baby, and felt utterly frustrated and bewildered. She blurted out in her anger, “You are a mean man!” Now, she looks back on Saturday’s incident with a twinge of remorse. “I sounded like a first grader. I should have cursed at him.” I laughed with her. I could identify with that feeling…of wishing you had reacted differently in a situation….coming up with the perfect retort hours after the moment passed. But later I started to wonder about it. Would cursing have made her sound more grownup? Would it have gotten her point across more effectively? Maybe it just would have felt better.
Although I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it, I’m not against the occasional curse word. I’ve been known in my home to blurt them out unintentionally AND intentionally. Usually I regret it afterward, especially if I was within earshot of any witnesses, but there is something sort of cathartic about cursing. And who doesn’t hold a bit of grudging respect for a person who can really use curse words creatively or string them together with flair? I didn’t grow up cursing and neither did my husband and so when we catch each other ripping off a four letter word, it usually makes the other giggle since it sounds so silly coming out of our mouths. So unnatural. I guess that’s probably a good thing. We wouldn’t want cursing to become a regular thing around our home.
I wonder why we feel that way about it. After all, curse words are just words, right? Is it that different if we replace them with more tame language that expresses exactly the same sentiment? Isn’t it the attitude behind them that is the problem? Why are curse words off-limits? Maybe it’s because when we curse, we are afraid it gives the impression to those around us that we are a certain “type” of person. They might peg us as a coarse, vulgar, or uneducated person who didn’t have good manners. Or at least a good vocabulary. I guess we don’t want people to put us in a box and get the wrong idea about who we are.
But what about the things we say, or rather don’t say, that really do reflect who we are? What about talking about the things we believe? Why is that off-limits in good company as well? Why is it bad manners to talk about religion and politics? After all, don’t our convictions and beliefs make up a good bit of who we are? I wouldn’t want my friends to shy away from sharing what they truly think about things. I want them to feel comfortable to share those with me. To be vulnerable enough to tell me the truth about what they believe is the truth. That’s important! That gives me a clearer picture of who they are. I find that sort of transparency very attractive in a friend.
But when the tables are turned, whoa! Back up, girl! I am not eager to do the same. I play my cards close to the vest. I’d much rather talk about my flaws, my struggles, my experiences, or even my sex life than have to talk about what I believe or my political convictions. Why? I usually would offer the excuse that I don’t want to offend anyone. I don’t want to have to say, “I think this, so that means I disagree with you. I think you are wrong.” Because I assume someone’s feelings might get hurt. But maybe it’s because I don’t want my beliefs to be exposed….to possibly be ridiculed. Held up for closer inspection. Or that I might be put in the frightening and intimidating position of having to defend them. Or perhaps the real issue is that I might not be liked as well as I was before.
But is that true? I wonder. If I have to hide who I really am and what I really think, then do my friends actually know me? Do they actually like the real me? If I’m hiding, chances are they don’t even know who the real me is. And I don’t know about you, but I can only do surface friendships for so long. They are tiring. And boring. I like my friendships with a little spice. A little fluff AND depth. The deep friendships go the distance. The friends who know me inside and out and still love me, and vice versa…the ones with whom you can let your hair down and your guard too and just let it all hang out. Those are the friendships that I truly enjoy and know will last. And I know part of the journey to developing those kinds of friendships requires a willingness to be vulnerable and transparent and let your friends see who you are, as well as an openness to accept who they really are too.
This all reminds me of my favorite episode from Seinfeld. Maybe you remember it too…the character Elaine is dating Puddy and is shocked to discover after a long period of dating that Puddy is a Christian. How could she not know such vital information about her own boyfriend? The funny thing is that this is not the most upsetting thing to her. What upsets her is that Puddy has never tried to persuade her to convert and thus save her from the pit of Hell. She knows full well she would never convert, but she is totally put out that he doesn’t care for her enough to even try. If he really loved her, wouldn’t he at least try to save her? I rolled with laughter when I saw the episode because I thought how true it rang with my own relationships. Do I care enough about the people in my life to really share with them who I am and what I believe? Are my convictions so strong that I would even try to persuade others? Am I passionate about them? What would be different if I not only lived what I believed but let others in on it too? How would the words that come out of my mouth be changed if I didn’t filter them so much? If I spoke from my heart and my mind with more freedom?
It’s a question I’m pondering these days. When should I keep quiet and when should I pipe up? I hope I discover the answer soon because I don’t want to lose too much time letting important things go unsaid. Better to have risked some transparency and said them than curse the missed opportunity. And besides, as Angy says, there are so many other things that she’d rather people not talk about….like their husband’s salaries or their gifted children’s grades…now those are better left unsaid. I agree. Because when those subjects come up, it just makes me want to curse.