A few months ago, a friend of mine shared a funny, slightly embarrassing story that ended up affecting me deeply. I would like to share that story with you.
My friend (we’ll call her Ann) was at a party with a group of girls she really hoped to befriend. Despite her nervousness, Ann went out of her social comfort zone and made a heartfelt effort to engage in conversation and connect with these young women. Things were going well but Ann hadn’t really made a splash—she was more of a friendly observer of the conversation than a driving force. That’s when chickens came up. The rest of the girls LOVE chickens. How cute chickens are! How quirky to love chickens! DING DING DING Ann’s brain says. I KNOW A THING ABOUT CHICKENS. LET US DAZZLE THEM WITH OUR CHICKEN FACT. So she blurts out the one thing she knows about chickens. That one thing just happens to be a rather disturbing feature of chicken mating rituals. As you can imagine, the girls Ann had so badly wanted to connect with were horrified. The topic of conversation changed abruptly and Ann didn’t see too much of the girls after that night.
As we laughed about her story, Ann said, “that’s just the one thing I know about chickens.” And I think about that story every day. Every time someone says something strange or potentially insulting to me, I imagine their brain librarian frantically searching for relevant content and accidentally spitting out an alarming factoid. “That’s the only thing he knows about chickens,” I told myself when a musician who had hired me for a gig started telling me all about his favorite jazz singer in town (spoiler alert: it’s not me). I’ve done it a thousand times: a statement that gets the green light from my brain comes out of my mouth with fabulously awkward results. It was just the one thing I knew about chickens. I related to Ann’s story profoundly. How many times have I gone to bed replaying a moment when my brain betrayed me and let me say something bizarre in public? How often have I wished I could retract a comment that sounded rude once it left my mouth?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m an intensely sensitive person and I will not waste my energy making excuses for offensive or harmful remarks. But I’m learning to sort between true ugliness and klutzy chicken facts. I’m learning to give others and myself grace for awkward moments. I have saved myself many hours and volumes of mental storage space by simply saying, “it was the one thing she knew about chickens.” Not only does the chicken fact come without bad intentions; it was actually born out of a desire to connect. It’s often not a meaningless moment, but rather a sincere attempt to relate. This story helped me translate confusing interactions and see how they might have been a humble offering of friendship.
So remember this story the next time someone nervously shouts a chicken fact at you at a party, and be sure to read this so you can become best friends.