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Not (that) Smart

Once upon a time, when I complained about some negative interactions at work, my sister-in-law instructed, "Be smart. Not right."

It was her version of less is more.

Too much. . .

Too little. . .

Too often. . .

So many kinds of mores. . .

Facial expressions. Increased volume. Repetition of the same phrases you heard. Which more, is the more, there should be less of? What is getting in the way? Our way? If my sister-in-law was right, I was in my own way.

This past week, I met for the first time with a book club to read, Say More About That. . . And Other Ways to Speak Up, Push Back, and Advocate for Yourself and Others by Amber Cabral. Much of its content is designed to facilitate diversity, equity and inclusion work, but I found myself reflecting on Hebrew class.

"What did the artist do in Bulgaria?" my teacher asked.

"When he was in Bulgaria, the artist taught,” I responded carefully.

Less. No embellishment. No extra opinion. No attempt at a joke or a new vocabulary word I had only read in my head.

Smart. No chance that I mispronounced a word or started myself down a sentence's path that I couldn’t finish.

Right. I repeated the words in the question, word for word and added only the missing information she expected at the end.

Still, I couldn’t help but consider, was this 'smart' or was it 'safe'? So safe, in fact, that I was not pushing myself to practice and so would never be the participant in fluent conversations?

But fluency, in other words, was just a flowing stream.

"I just keep talking. I can hear myself. I tell myself to stop. Just stop," my coworker confided in me. "Why do I do that? Nerves," she answered her own question.

And that rough water didn’t propel either of us forward. Instead, it drowned us, because when we were afraid, we hid. The smart answer, the less is more answer, didn’t feel smart, it simply felt less. Less movement forward. Less of who we really were.

Say more about that. There were so many. . .

'Thats’ could be examples of how much we pushed ourselves in practice, how we determined what level of fear to push through, how much we relied on the conversation structures already in place in the dialogue to succeed, or at least be understood.

When was less more because we're too safe? So safe that we risk never learning, growing, connecting. When was smart ego? A chance to star not start a conversation.

A rambling, nervous answer. An answer with vocabulary unsure of its pronunciation or application. An answer with details that served more to divide than to connect. More was not more.

"Be smart. Not right."

Let's be honest, I always wanted to be smart. As an adult, I could admit exactly which kind of smart, book smart. Not street. Not people. Books. I valued learning, knowing, using words, not behaviors.

Professional. Personal. Community.

Focus on that

The 'that'

Only that.

Cabral states, “Using new words will never be progress; behaving differently is where the real progress happens" (9). Sometimes, less may not be more. Smart is knowing how to decide.

Here are a few posts, I've said about. . . ‘that’:


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