Five Things I Never Want to Say

Over the last week, I've run into some interesting people: a steam-punk former Australian with an eclectic taste in art, a Luddite in a tech camp who sees social media as largely destructive, a conservative evangelical church planter.

I enjoyed this group of people largely because of an overall theme from my former mentor: you never know the whole story. I think that sense of never knowing the whole story is what permeates the following advice he gave me years ago.

We were having coffee and I asked him why he didn't act like "an old guy" and I expected something about youth and perspective and an open mind. But instead, he ticked off five things that he promised himself in his youth that he never wanted to say:
  1. "That's a boring person." I challenged him on this and he said, "There are no boring people. Just people who have gotten really good at hiding. So, that's why you ask really hard questions that push people out of boredom." He's right. There's always a story behind the boredom. Always.
  2. "The music is too loud." Brad warned me that I would reach an age where people stop listening to new music and start thinking that the music they enjoyed in their youth was better than the current stuff. "Don't forget that music is someone's craft and dismissing it just because it sounds different is basically saying, 'I don't like art.'" 
  3. "The book was better than the movie." He told me this one time when I was talking about the Harry Potter series. He reminded me that it's a different medium, one that is often more visual, emotional and concise. It's more fun to think about the differences, not in terms of good or bad, but in terms of how the message changes as a result. I remember once complaining about books that have movie posters as covers. Again, he challenged me. "What if that becomes the gateway drug to reading?" Yep. 
  4. "That's a strange way to dress." Clothes are a method of self-expression. If it looks odd, think of it as a statement about identity and society. It's a chance to open one's mind. This small piece of advice transformed the way I thought not only of how sub-cultures dress, but also about the transgender community. In other words, clothes become a story that someone is telling and often the stranger the clothes, the more interesting the story. 
  5. "That's shallow." If I think that sports or fashion or a certain genre of literature seems shallow, chances are, it's because I have only a shallow understanding of them. Instead of labeling it as shallow, it helps if I think about "the shallow" from a more critical lens. 
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John Spencer

John Spencer is a teacher, author, speaker, and incessant doodler. He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard and the co-founder of Write About. He is passionate about helping students develop into better writers and deeper thinkers.

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4 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing some great advice. I've not always followed it in the past, but I'm going to try to in the future.

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  2. More than 80 decibels is too loud--acquired deafness is no joke.

    I've been knowing to point to the bay and note "that's shallow," moments before a neophyte sailor lodges his keel in the mud.

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  3. I have similar feelings towards "She/He is Weird". I am thankful for the "weird" ones because thinking outside the square is what has pushed innovation and the arts. I don't allow my kids to use the word "weird" in this negative sense, rather change the approach to "unusual" or "different" and instead of closing off in a negative sense this allows them to see possibility in the unusual behaviour.

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  4. You've posted about Brad before. He seems like a wise man. I appreciate you for sharing his advice with the rest of us.

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