The Right to say ‘Um’

As a kid in school you probably experienced this. You are trying to share a presentation, and the teacher says “don’t say ‘um’”. Suddenly, your mind goes blank. The words aren’t flowing. You were talking about a complicated subject that you’ve worked hard to try to understand. Mistakes are bound to happen. If you start talking now, it’s most likely going to be gibberish.

black round analog wall clock

You’ve probably experienced this, unless it was just me. I must not to be the only one who sees this as a social block. I don’t think that anyone has to have a communication disorder and autism like myself to want conversations to flow peacefully—even if this means the occasional hiccup that’s given time to be corrected in a smooth, flowing way, and allow for the use of tools to help everyone think. I believe that if you’re human, talking comes with thinking. You can’t stop thinking while your talking–this is unreasonable unless you’re a super person. However, even if we are saying ‘um’ in the moment, I believe that this habit can taper in the future simply because we were allowed to hesitate right now in order to later be truly grounded in a subject, and hold a firm stance.

Nerd super hero
This is um… super guy?

Although I have struggled with communication, I have never loved language more than I do now. But even now, like I also was in the past, I’m afraid of it. Words can be used in poetry and music as expressions of deep emotion. They can also be used to tell stories through the process of cause and effect that we see all around us in the world. When done right, a story can show us the consequences of a wrong, the benefits of mercy, and the reward of victory and adventure without straight-up telling us what we should or shouldn’t do. However, language is not a toy. Even when a story doesn’t state a message, it can stray too far towards emotion, or too far towards morality. As I’ve been writing my stories I have found myself straying both ways. I think it’s inevitable that this is going to happen, but it’s good to be convicted enough about what you’re saying to not go with the crowd, and find the middle ground through the internal, and external process of trial and error. This also goes with speaking. If you were a kid who was told to prepare a PowerPoint presentation about everything that lead up to World War Two, then present it after a week, or as an adult, a friend opened up a controversial subject that you don’t hold a firm stance on yet, the right to hesitate and say ‘um’ seems about right to me.

photo of brown wooden chess set on table beside white and gray disposable cup

Confidence is good, but it seems like in this world expressing a lack of confidence is frowned upon. We are often forced to look and sound confident. What happens when we pretend to be confident when we’re really not? We experience a social crash. Sometimes this crash can be the worst thing that can ever happen to us. It can cause us to confuse or hurt the people around us, including the ones we love. It deeply hurts when this happens, but there is still a light at the end of the tunnel. I know from experience that this crash can lead to true honesty in the future. Even if in the moment honesty means saying ‘um’ without regrets, and allowing yourself to express uncertainty about what you are inclined to say, and what another person is saying.

red and yellow hatchback axa crash tests

Not a lot of people will tell you that it’s okay to express self-doubt. The world seems to think that doubting ourselves is the same thing as low self-esteem, or even self-betrayal. I believe that we need to change our perspective on this somehow. If we truly care about our own well-being socially, we should be allowed to hesitate, and express doubt before we can be moved to grow, and learn the truth about anything.  We can’t grow until we know we’re small.


Some people will say that ‘um’ is a useless filler in spoken word that can waste people’s time, but I beg to differ. I believe that ‘um’ is a lull that allows the listeners to think, and the speaker to gather the very next words. ‘Um’ is like the hum of a cotton candy machine as it’s shooting out the sweet fibers that attach to each other to create one thing, then get twisted up onto the stick that anchors it all together so that it all makes sense. We can know the individual details about something, and we can also know a broad statement. But it’s not always easy to figure out how the small details connect to either confirm or disconfirm a broad statement as the actual big picture. I believe that if we’re sensitive to this we will be able to express ourselves freely.

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