I had an awful little secret in high school; one that caused me untold grief, guilt and embarrassment.
In the early 60s in the small town in which I lived there was no television and even radio reception left something to be desired. The social life of the community revolved around the church and the school. When there was a school dance, the whole town turned out and the adults danced right along with the kids. It was great! I loved to attend the dances—but not to dance.
During my senior year I was elected Studentbody president. I played basketball, baseball and participated in track. There was no football team or I would have played that, too. I was popular with the girls and never lacked for a date—but my awful little secret hung over my head like the shadow of doom. For lack of a better term, I will call it “bailephobia” or fear of dancing.
I had two left feet in a day and age when the waltz, fox trot and swing were popular. Back in those days we actually got to hold a girl in our arms and twirl her around the dance floor—at least others did. I was too self-conscious and embarrassed and fearful that I would stomp on the poor girl’s toes. I was a rhythmless dance klutz and I knew it.
In order to hide my affliction, I would avoid dancing with the girls that I really liked. Instead, I would ask the girls who sat along the walls without dates to dance—the girls who came to the dances all dolled up but who seldom got on the floor. Well, my habit of dancing with the “wall flowers” did not go unnoticed among the adults who were present.
Little old ladies began talking about the “noble young man” who danced with “all” the girls. “Isn’t that sweet!” they would chortle to one another.
As my popularity skyrocketed among the elderly of the town, I’m sure it plummeted amongst my peers. Sometimes things are just not what they seem. I was not being noble; I was simply trying to cover up the fact that I was dance challenged.
One’s reputation can go south in a hurry. One Saturday night I briefly joined some of my peers who were hanging out in a friend’s back yard. I didn’t stay long having somewhere else to be. Apparently, after I left, things deteriorated into the telling of some off-color stories and jokes that were less than tasteful. At church the next morning I was approached by one of the leading men of the community who said to me, “I am very disappointed in you. I expected better of you.”
He told me that he had overheard the boys talking and knew that I was participating right along with them. No amount of denial on my part would persuade the man differently. I’m sure I was more disappointed than he was as my reputation took a hit. I wondered how many others he told. The words of an old hymn come to mind:
“Nay, speak no ill; a kindly word can never leave a sting behind; and, oh, to breathe each tale we’ve heard is far beneath a noble mind. Full oft a better seed is sown by choosing thus the kinder plan, for, if but little good is known, still let us speak the best we can.
“Then speak no ill, but lenient be to others’ failings as your own. If you’re the first a fault to see, be not the first to make it known, for life is but a passing day; no lip may tell how brief its span. Then, oh, the little time we stay, let’s speak of all the best we can.”
(Anonymous, circa 1853)
Reputations rise and fall on the perceptions that people have of us—right or wrong. Whether I find someone trying to hide his or her shortcomings or otherwise find someone wanting, it is my hope to be able to take the high road and be earnest in the search for good, and “speak of all the best we can.”