#86: Grace and Salt

#86: Grace and Salt

My faulty memory is well-documented on this website, so it’s always curious to me what I do remember. Embarrassing things that happened, no matter how long ago, seem to stick like glue, and in unguarded moments will play in my mind’s eye on a continuous loop. But there have been a few moments of success, and here is one of them. 

I was sitting in my 9th grade Social Studies class, and the teacher was talking about the cultural influence of sports. With the exasperation of a woman with young sons who were probably taking soccer, baseball, football, and basketball, she commented: “Sports! It’s all boys think about!”

I’m not sure how I could say this confidently, as I had zero (0!) personal experience as supporting evidence, but nevertheless, I piped up from the back row: “That’s not all boys think about.”

What followed was one of the most satisfying experiences of my young life. I made my proclamation, and after a moment of shocked silence, the entire class erupted into laughter, teacher included. I imagine it was similar to the feeling of hitting a home run – sometimes you don’t need to watch the ball reach the outfield; you can just tell by the crack of the bat and the noise in the stands that it is outta there.

These days, I tend to look for the joke in almost every conversation. It’s just what my brain does. But this was high school, when I considered it a survival tactic to stifle every expressive instinct I had. I could easily laugh about things others said, but my greatest fear was of others laughing at me (and not with me). So it was a very rare moment when I had something to say that I believed was worth hearing, and could set aside my usual self-consciousness in order to say it.

I was reminded of this moment when sitting in a leadership conference a few days ago. The speaker was one of Forbes “100 Most Powerful Women of the Year.” Because of her success as CEO of a 155-year-old company lauded for innovation and international growth, she had been flown from her company’s headquarters in London for the express purpose of addressing our group. Her speaking was hardly a surprise – but it was her manner of doing so that made an impression on me, almost to the exclusion of what she said.

One of the conference hosts interviewed her in a Q & A format. He would ask a question, and respectfully wait for her response.

And wait.

And wait.

And wait.

The woman took a full six seconds before beginning her answers. Six seconds doesn’t seem like a long time, until you are in an arena with over 13,000 people sitting on the edge of our seats, pens poised over conference notebooks, breathlessly waiting for a sentence to begin. Then, it feels like an eternity.

She did not “Hmmmm” or “Uhhhh” or dissemble in any way. She did not apologize for keeping us waiting as she gathered her thoughts, or acknowledge her delay in responding. She did not move or fidget, but sat perfectly still. Question after question, each followed by the same eternal pause.

One Mississippi.

Two Mississippi.

Three Mississippi.

Four Mississippi.

Five Mississippi.

Six Mississippi.

Here is a woman who works for a company worth billions. Her opinions were solicited because they are considered to be valuable. She readily gave them in her own time, in her own way, after carefully weighing each and every word. I have to respect someone who thinks well enough of herself, and of me, to address me so intentionally.

I can’t imagine anyone flying me overseas to lecture to 13,000 people. I can’t imagine knowing anything that would be that valuable to a large group. For certain, I can’t imagine the confidence it takes to stand on a stage in front of a restless crowd for six… silent… seconds… over and over and over again.

What I can imagine, or rather, aspire to, is to speak deliberately, choosing words with care, because I value both myself and the person I’m addressing.

I don’t have to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company to be someone worth listening to.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt,
so that you may know how to answer everyone.”  – Colossians 4:6, NIV 

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