The Hug Verger

September 12, 2012 Post Comment Uncategorised

I recently
joined a LinkedIn group started by my good friend Sophia Husbands called “What’s
Stopping You?”
And, like many invitations, provocations and new places – this got
me thinking!

Folding the T Shirt

A few years
ago I was a County U14s Cricket Manager, and I would do an interactive
presentation with every new intake at our first session in January.
One of the exercises involved folding a T-shirt very neatly so that it appeared
in ‘new’ and ‘shop shelf’ condition. It demonstrated 2 main things –
a) To the players – that this is a quickly learnt skill to execute the task in
under 15 seconds, and is a timely reminder that we can all learn new skills
easily in the right environment.
About the players – their open-mindedness, confidence and beliefs; which most
times throws plenty of light on their world-view.

Now, if this
task was required for every one of them to do, then all we (the management team)
would get would be information on levels of expertise and speed of skills
acquisition. However these lads didn’t ALL have to do the folding task – so straight
away the reticent ones would take the road of “I’ll watch the others before I have a
And this is where it connects with “What’s Stopping You?” and – “Why are the
reticent, reticent?”

Reticence and Judgement

To a young teenage
mind there are not very many grey areas, so although we might see degrees of
expertise or making a good fist of attempting, they will invariably
judge it as either I CAN do this or I CAN’T do this.

thing is that they will also judge themselves – IF they think they are being judged too.

If left to
their own devices, with no critical eye looking on, then most of them will keep
making attempts, go after go, until they are satisfied it conforms to the model
they were shown what and how to copy.
However, if their beliefs are such that they are already on the road to being
perfectionists, then – even when left to their own devices – they will sabotage
their learning abilities by damning self talk, and give up trying.

when we are really young and learning to walk or speak we start out with no
comprehension about the ability to be reticent or judge ourselves. It’s all
about the game called discovery and we play it very well. Our parents, siblings,
other family members and people around us, give us (as a rule) plenty of
encouragement in this game of learning by discovery.


In my book “Lamplighters”
I talk about recognising and dealing with our gremlins, and how they get into
our lives. Probably the first gremlin we encounter is the linguistic one DON’T.
Don’t leads us very quickly to its brother gremlins WON’T, SHAN’T and CAN’T.
The thing is, the older we get and the more we get familiar with – especially in
terms of our own usage – these four linguistic gremlins, the more we allow them
to twist our beliefs into shapes that were never there when we learned how to balance,
walk and talk.

In terms of “What’s
Stopping You?” therefore, the answers always tend to lie within ourselves.
“I can’t do this because …”because there’s always a reason, an excuse.
“Yes, but what if …” I mess it up, or make a real hash of it.
“I’ll look stupid …”and they’ll
laugh at me and see me for what I really am.
Or – “I’ll feel stupid …” and then I’ll
know that I’m really not that good at stuff.

Take a look
at our Paralympians. As far as their capabilities were concerned, once they’d
excluded or banished or never let in that quartet of linguistic limitations
then a whole range of possibilities opened up. Their answer to “What’s Stopping
You” was, pretty much, “… nothing, unless I make it so.”

Reframing excuses is a great way to start, because it challenges a particular world-view.
I can’t go and talk to that good
looking stranger at the bar.”
“Why not? What’s the
worst thing that could happen?”
“They wouldn’t want to talk to me. They
might say something like ‘Get Lost Creep!’ And that
would be awful.”

“How lucky would that be, though? Discovering that they aren’t nice! Imagine having to spend time, let alone a
life, with someone as awful as THAT? Wow – what a narrow escape from hell on
wheels that was!”

beliefs, especially in the area of our capabilities, often start out quite
innocently. Once the gremlins have sneaked in though, whether through the open door
or under the threshold, then they can set to work. When we’re young the signs
of their handiwork can soon be on show, while sometimes they can often lie
dormant for years and then emerge. Quite often we’ll apply a youthful strategy
to deal with a gremlin’s action only to discover as we get older that it has
come back – with a vengeance.

The Hug Verger

I remember when
I was quite young, I would sit with my mother and we would read a story
together. She’d read part of a page to me and then I’d read the rest of the
page to her. Now we’ve all been party to such an activity, and I used to really
enjoy it – the story unfolding through her voice and then my voice. From her I got
to learn what lots more words looked like and sounded like – and I got a really
good handle on pronunciation and other aspects of speech for myself as well. It
was another innocent and fun learning activity.

One particular day I remember reading out loud, “… and a Hug Verger came out
from the shadows.” There was a suspension of time which was broken by my mother
asking me to repeat what I’d just said. “A Hug Verger came out from the

She smiled and chuckled, “That’s pronounced h-u-g-e   f-i-g-u-r-e. A huge figure
came out from the shadows.” I repeated how she said it, and very soon got it
right. English is not an easy language, and here was a two word phrase with a hard and a
soft ‘g’ AND two different ‘u’ sounds. Think about it – not many words rhyme with ‘huge’ or look
like ‘figure’ – and I certainly had no references for anything like these words!

The thing was – I was young enough to make an attempt to say them without
thinking, using my current knowledge and what words looked and sounded like. I
paid no thought to making a mistake, because I often made mistakes when reading with
my mother like that. And yes, I saw how funny it was in context, when she told
me what a Verger actually was and did.

Trouble was however – The Hug Verger became a source of some amusement for other adults
beyond the confines of our mother and son read-and-learn exercise. To the
adults my parents shared this anecdote with, this was just a funny sounding linguistic joke – but to my young mind I was the joke. They were laughing at
me – not at what I’d said.

I never
revealed these feelings to my parents – or asked them to keep the story private. And, in this small boy’s view of the world, the discomfort and
embarrassment were agonising.

The almost instant end result was I became very cautious at
reading words I didn’t immediately recognise by pausing and letting the silence
hang there until my mother said the word. Then I could say it ‘the right way’
and this wouldn’t lead to any more Hug Vergers, or embarrassment and
discomfort. Silence was my safety mechanism.

And this was the start of my shyness …

When meeting people I’d have to speak – I
might say ‘the wrong thing’ so I’d be as silent as possible. In contemplation
of meeting people I’d go through the next stage of silence – avoidance. I’d
avoid meeting people. When avoidance was not an option, and silence was not an
option, then I’d just have to speak. And the consequence of this conflict
between speaking and avoiding was the next stage – stammering. From the smallest beginnings this was growing and growing.

There’s an
old nursery rhyme about a horseshoe nail –

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

And for me, this
became true. I lost a large part of my personal kingdom for many years – all
for the want of an explanatory and comforting “Hug”.

So when
people talk to me about what’s stopping them, I’m happy to share my own
cautionary tale – AND to invite them to reframe their experiences; experiences
that have fashioned and crafted their limiting beliefs.

Hopefully this enables them to hug their vergers,
embrace their fears, banish their gremlins and start enjoying the life they
really want to lead.