Why We Sit in the Back

Yesterday I walked into a big meeting room and excuse-me-pleased my way past colleagues’ knees to get a seat in the middle of a back row of chairs. Looking up at the speaker at the front of the room I realized with a pang of guilt there were plenty of empty seats up there. I didn’t need to jostle past people, threatening to knock over their coffees and their pads of paper carefully balanced in their laps, in order to find a seat. Why do I like to sit in the back? Why do you? Seems like we’ve got a lot of company back there.

Let me confess that my stock answers as to why I sit in the back are bullshit, and include nonsense like:

  1. I am very important and busy, and I might have to leave early so should sit near the door.
  2. I am shy and the long walk to the front where people can see me makes me anxious.
  3. I am leaving the good front seats for other people to enjoy.

Leaving aside whatever bits of truth there may be in any of those answers (I actually am very shy and hate being looked at) notice how each of those “reasons” starts with I. I am busy, shy, magnanimous. Its all about me, don’t you see?

But it’s not. Sitting there yesterday I did feel guilty for sitting in the back, and I started to think about why. I realized it is because my seating choice was saying something to the people who were giving me their time, their work, their thoughts up there at the front of the room where I myself hate to be. By choosing to sit back there in the shadows when there were plenty of seats up front I was communicating that I wasn’t committed to that meeting, to what they had to offer me. I was saying I wasn’t all in.

So, to all you lovely people who stood up in front of a room yesterday and taught me something, I’m sorry. I did learn things from you. And I’ll use them. Including that thing I learned about not sitting in the back.

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