What a funny word. Did you know we haven’t had the word “embarrassment” in the English language for more than 300 years? It’s a relatively young word that actually comes from French meaning “to block” and which can be applied as “feeling awkward” of sorts…which is why the Spanish word for “pregnant” is quite the same. Yes, not only that but embarrassment can be a thing as well as a state with three different implications: confusion or disturbance of the mind, difficulty from wanting money to pay debts, and difficulty from a cardiac disease. Embarrassment encompasses a heck of a lot of spectra, much like my face when I’m red from an embarrassing situation.
I’m a firm believer that the greatest flaw in humanity is emotion. I think emotion too often overrules our natural responses and instincts. It causes us rage that goes beyond adrenaline and necessity and assists evil doings. It causes us to make hasty and improper decisions, then saddles us with regret shortly thereafter. Regret. That’s a pretty bad one, too. But regret lets us feel like we have room for improvement. Embarrassment on the other hand… sometimes I wonder if that’s the worst emotion ever. Grief and regret are things that hopeful pass or inspire, but embarrassment is like a memory branded in your mind and you can replay those moments so vividly that you inadvertently relive them.
But why do we get embarrassed? What causes people to feel embarrassment?
For me, it can be a slow process. It could be an article I spent a long time writing and poured my heart into only to have it torn apart grammatically and ridiculed for its silly content. That’s embarrassing; I was proud of that now mangled mess.
For me, it can also be a split second of failure. The first thought that comes to mind is when I try to run in lovely Shaker Heights and catch my toe on its splendidly uneven slate sidewalks. In front of traffic. Country bumpkin over here running, sorry. Don’t mind me. I don’t often wear shoes and sidewalks are kind of a new thing for me…
Yet why do I care? Who cares if I make a lot of mistakes in my work if no one gets hurt by it? Who cares if I think differently than other people or they just don’t get something I’m trying to say? Who. Cares. If. I. Trip. But really? So what? I’m running, I fall, I get back up, whoop-de-doo. Oh, you were driving your car when I fell? You were NOT exercising and I was? Who should be embarrassed? Alas, it’s still me. I’m embarrassed. But I don’t want to be embarrassed. And I can remember my moments of embarrassment better than any moments of success – or a dynamics equation.
Since embarrassment is such a personal and intrinsic feeling, I try to think about what spiritual leaders would be telling their followers. They always seem to have good advice on handling others and keeping your cool, so what would they tell me about embarrassment? If I had to guess, it’d be something like this: None of us are flawless. God/Allah/some other spiritual being has made us the way we are, all unique, and has provided us with these moments to remember our imperfections. It’s grounding, it’s humiliating. Humiliation is how you learn to be humble.
In fact, thinking of humility, shame, and moments that cause us to reflect as such reminds me of a sermon I visited this fall when my friend invited me to his church. To confirm my speculation that a spiritualist would tell me that my embarrassment is a humbling eye-opener, I have rediscovered this passage from that sermon:
“When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, ‘Why is He eating and drinking with the tax collectors and sinners?’ And hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”
It doesn’t matter what religion you are or aren’t, I think all holy scriptures are like additional Aesop’s Fables to life and I love to use them to reflect. This quote from the book of Mark, one of the many brought up in the sermon, makes me realize that I feel embarrassment because I am able to be humbled. I am not so righteous that I am perfect or in my own Nirvana; I have flaws that I need reminding of. And what’s better yet is those moments when I fall – whether figuratively or literally – are always those moments when I am overconfident. I am embarrassed because I realize maybe my writing isn’t as fantastic as I thought it was. I am embarrassed because, for a moment, I was caught up in thinking about myself too much that I tripped and realized how feeble I am.
In conclusion, I have decided that embarrassment is really just a blessing. Without it, we would be blinded by overconfidence and not realize how foolish we are being at times. Embarrassment does give us a chance for redemption, but only if we actively seek it.