I had the joy of helping to watch the little ones at church during a recent evening service. We had about 15 children ranging from an infant to pre-teen. One group of boys was doing basketball tricks with the Nerf® basketballs and hoops. One of the older boys, Carlos,* was challenging his much younger brother, Owen, to do what he was doing. Ethan and Justin were playing along. Over and over I heard, “Try this, Owen!” as Carlos tried dunks, rolling shots, and layups. It was a lot of fun to watch. Eventually the boys all wandered to other various activities around the room—cars, blocks, musical instruments, etc.
Much later in the evening Ethan and Justin were back at the basketball area. I finally realized that Ethan was saying, “Try that Owen!” before every shot. I looked around. Owen was at the craft table. Carlos had joined his parents in the communion service. It was just Ethan and Justin playing. Suddenly I realized that Ethan had no idea what he was saying. He was just repeating what Carlos had said, assuming it was the equivalent of, “Try this trick.”
I started laughing, then went over to talk to him. I asked him if he knew what “Owen” meant. He didn’t. I pointed out Owen and explained that it was his name. I told Ethan that Carlos had been challenging his brother. I told him that, since he was playing with Justin he could say, “Try that, Justin!” or “Try that, dude!” The lightbulb came on.
When I think of that exchange I still chuckle. I’ve been giving it a bit of thought, though. How often do I see someone I admire and try emulating them without knowing the “why” behind their actions? How many times have I used a word thinking I knew the meaning, only to find out later that I had used it incorrectly?
From now on when I consider picking up someone else’s style/mannerism/catch-phrase, I’ll stop and consider whether it’s really something that fits me. I’ll think, “Try this, Owen!”
*I’ve changed the children’s names to protect their identity and their reputations. After all, who knows who might see this someday.