I was practicing for the competition after school with my teacher and one other student. Liam was tasked with the word "maestro." He began to spell it, with confidence:
I laughed derisively. Surely the word was spelt, "mistro." There was simply no way it could have an 'a' and an 'e' in it.
"-s-t-r-o," he finished, glaring at me out the corner of his eye.
To my surprise, our teacher affirmed his spelling. While I took a sharp breath in horror, he smiled with smug self-satisfaction.
It may seem like a silly watershed moment, an inconsequential event on which to tie all resulting life choices to. But it affected me profoundly. I have been careful, to the point of self-censorship, never to voice an opinion, or to mock the opinion of anyone else, unless I was absolutely certain I was in the right and knew enough of the facts to be confident in my opinion.
In short, I hid my hubris (though it certainly still resides within me) and made the choice to only ever share my thoughts when my thoughts appeared to be those of a maestro.
This moment has had dual consequences: I am respectful of others, but I often undermine myself.
That day I learned that there are extenuating circumstances and outside knowledge I will never be privy to. That day, I stopped acting on what David Foster Wallace describes in "This Is Water," his landmark Kenyon College commencement speech, as "the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world." That day, I realized that Liam didn't just know more about the spelling of a certain word, but had opinions and ideas that conflicted entirely with mine, formed of experiences I would never understand, let alone experience.
This was good. This was growth. This was instrumental in my personal growth.
The flip side of this growth was I became afraid people that people knowing more than me meant I should not share what I knew or should not argue for my personal experience. This may surprise people who know me, the outspoken me who seems to vocalize everything she thinks.
I don't. I think much more than I say. I select the funny or insightful things. I work to appear competent, capable, likable. I hide the confusion and concern. Sometimes I want to tell a friend I don't like the way they're treating me, but I get scared. I second guess my own feelings and experiences of the world because they can be challenged, and because I don't like confrontation, and I don't want to be the cause of another self-satisfied smile ever again.
I'm working toward expressing myself, trying hard to determine what is valid, and expressing it in a way that takes into account both my limited vocabulary and the spelling bee prowess of those around me. Maybe one day, I will be the maestro of myself.
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