Why does it sting so severely when we embarrass ourselves in front of others?
Anthropologists would likely say it’s a carry-over reflex from our primitive days; we feel anxious about being ostracized from the protections of the tribe.
Maybe so, but it probably also has something to do with the fact that it’s a little terrifying to know that an image of ourselves — at our most foolish and unflattering — is inside someone else’s head, and outside our control. It is as if a part of ourselves is on loan to someone else, and they are free to do with it whatever they please (including, we fear, laugh).
Fortunately, this loan is not permanent. In fact, within hours, even minutes, the image of us that a stranger holds in their head will begin to vanish.
Think of your own experience: no matter how weird-looking someone is, or how mortifying their behavior — no matter how sure you feel that you’ll never forget their face — you invariably do.
Even after a bystander sees someone commit a gruesome crime, they regularly can’t pick the suspect out of a line-up! So they’re surely not going to remember the mug of someone who got a frog in his throat when trying to start a conversation.
This is vital information when it comes to hesitating about trying things where you fear you’ll make a fool of yourself. It’s easier to carpe diem when you know that an embarrassing situation is like a soon-to-be-shaken Etch-a-Sketch.
We have a saying around here: “Life’s too short to go through life being afraid of life.” It’s not an artful phrase, but the meaning is sound: you’ve got nothing to lose in putting yourself out there, for life has a definite expiration date, and fortunately, so does the memory of your mess-ups!
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