One of my earliest efforts at sincerity fell flat. I was in my first year at a new school, in the fourth grade. I wasn’t all that new, a few months in, but still feeling my way through the social maze ( I am pretty introverted, and I was much more so back then; I made friends and settled in, but really getting in a groove would take until the following school year).
Two guys in the class who were good friends were Roman and Steve. I remember Roman as a bit of a tough guy, although not a bully, and Steve was wisecracking, easygoing kid. Roman had a nickname for Steve that included a racial epithet. It was not meant to be insulting, even I could see that.
So why then did I feel the need to say something about this? My conscience? Misplaced sincerity? Youthful naivete? Yeah, I’ll go with that last one. Here I am, the newest kid in class, and I think I know better than anyone else, including the two guys directly involved.
Well, I told Roman one day that the nickname he had for Steve wasn’t a nice one. I said that maybe it hurt Steve’s feelings. Now, you must understand the level of sincerity I felt in this moment. I knew very well that the word included in the nickname was not nice; it was well-known that this was not a nice word, that it wasn’t part of the public discourse. I mean, even in my young mind I knew this was ‘common knowledge’. And having that knowledge in my possession compelled me, as a nice kid, to share it with this other kid who obviously did not get it.
I felt good about this. It was not self-righteousness or even ego (I don’t think) as I was probably too young to be motivated by those things–that would happen quite easily as I moved into adolescence and then adulthood. No, as a church-going kid I really felt like I was sharing some insight that these kids didn’t get, but which they’d appreciate.
It was not to be. Roman’s response was a curt and emphatic ‘F— you, Adam’. And that was that. It did not fully teach me to mind my own beeswax, but it was a start, that’s for sure.