A lesson learned during a great Christmas break

Hey all, I’m back!  I’ve written only two post over the last week and a half or so, that’s just not good enough.  Since I was out of town spending Christmas with my family – and it was an amazing wonderful time – I’m just going to assume everyone’s forgiveness.  I got to spend tons of time with the nieces and nephew as well as the rest of my family, and even got to enjoy some sunshine.

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It’s really a great way to start your winter.

There was one situation that cropped up, however.  It was a minor one (no… a really minor one), but it stuck in my head, so I thought I might share it here.

The night before I came home, the family sat around the table for a game of Trivial Pursuit.  Most of you reading this will know that my wife and I spend a lot of time playing bar trivia, and we are fiercely competitive when it comes to proving our knowledge of pointless facts.  It wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that we’re a tad obsessive about this little hobby.  But dammit, we like to win.

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“I think you might want to check my answers again.”

The rest of my family is well aware of this, so my wife and I aren’t allowed to be on the same team.  Instead we decided to play a men vs. women game.  It was a tightly contested game by both sides, in a way that only a family get-together can produce.

The game was running headlong toward a thrilling finish (the women won, curse them!) when I read the ladies the question, “What nom de plume did french philosopher François-Marie Arouet use?” Now I want to make clear that had I not held the card with the answer in my hands, I would’ve had no clue.  If it were my team the question was posed to, the only way I would’ve gotten it is through a sheer stab in the dark.

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“Your mom had no trouble remembering me.”

As my mom, wife, and sisters debated various answers my eldest sister said, “What about that Camus guy?”  She didn’t pronounce in its proper french style (rhymes with Shamu) but instead pronounced the “s” at the end, so it sounded like, “What about that Cam-Us guy?”  Something about that struck me as hilarious, and I let out a… um…  Okay, I’ll admit, it was a cackle, a really loud cackle.

What I must make clear here is that my sister is an incredibly intelligent woman; there are no slouches in my family on the brainy side of things.  It never once for a moment crossed my mind that she might not know how to pronounce Albert Camus’ name.  I laughed because I thought she was purposely mispronouncing it for effect.

Well, you know what they say about assumptions…

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“Don’t look at me.  I may be a jackass, but I’m not that stupid.”

Turns out she didn’t know.  All the intelligence in the world doesn’t matter if you never encountered fact before.  You can’t remember what you never learned, and french philosophers isn’t exactly at the top of the list for most educations.

My sister turned to me with a glare and a sharp word that she usually reserves for the moments when her son is severely misbehaving.  I knew exactly where I went wrong, and I really felt like crap about it.

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I’ve seen this look on my nephew… now I know exactly what he’s feeling when I see it.

A few minutes later I apologized, and my sister graciously accepted it.  However, the brief moment of guilt stuck with me.  I went over the sequence of events again and again and came to only one conclusion.  I was an asshole.  There was not one point of this exchange in which my own condescension didn’t get in my way.  Even if I didn’t intend to patronize my sister, I laughed because I thought she was mocking people who actually wouldn’t know how to pronounce Camus’ name.  That alone is disrespectful of me.  My reaction to ignorance should be at best an honest and sympathetic offer to educate, or at the very least respectful silence.

But no, I reacted with laughter, which is especially hypocritical of me.  I like to think that I’m usually a pretty even tempered kind of guy.  Yet nothing will enrage me more than looking stupid in front of others.  I think we all have those moments of embarrassment in our lives; the moments that were so humiliating that even remembering them gives us an echo of that mortifying feeling.  Most of the worst of those types of memories for me are of moments I flew off the handle because I thought someone was laughing at me for being stupid.

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The rest involve bad nights at trivia.

So of course I had to apologize, but even that had it’s own level of pomposity.  My sister responded with her characteristic grace, but I couldn’t help feeling that at some level I was saying, “I’m sorry, I thought you were smarter than you actually are.”  Hardly a humble acknowledgment of wrongdoing… was just digging the whole deeper.

The fact is no matter how I turned it over in my head, I was the asshole.  I can and should do better.

This, however, was still an incredibly minor blemish on an otherwise fantastic week of good cheer, good food, good drinks, and the best of company a guy could ever ask for.  I hope each and every one of you had as wonderful a close to 2013 as I did.  Looking forward to a bright year to come… oh, and more regular blogging too.

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