Those Things By Which We Get Embarrassed


Both of my kids just got glasses. Their squints to read digital clocks were becoming more and more apparent. And we had warned them for months that an eye appointment was upcoming.

But not until just recently were our suspicions officially confirmed. New eyeglasses were ordered, picked up, and fitted.

Alexa, my daughter, picked purple glasses and kinda likes wearing them. It certainly helps that her friends refer to them as “adorable.”

But my 12-year old son? Not so much. In fact, he hates wearing them—at least, that is, when he is around his friends.

When he is home alone with us, wearing glasses is not a problem. He can see the computer screen better, he can read books easier, and he can read the clock on the oven without having to stand up and walk closer.

But around his friends, he wears them only when absolutely necessary. His glasses cause him embarrassment… some things never change.

Embarrassment. It is an interesting topic when you stop to think about it.

To be embarrassed is to experience a feeling of self-consciousness, shame, or awkwardness. Most often, these feelings are sparked by moments where we feel different, slightly apart from normal, or out of place.

It seems these feelings of inadequacy begin to emerge in grade school and strengthen through high school as our self-awareness grows. They arise from any number of causes: being one of the first to wear glasses, having unique physical characteristics, or being singled out in class or social circles.

As we get older, these feelings (and the fear) of embarrassment continue to surface. But the stakes get higher.

We no longer get embarrassed about just wearing glasses, we may also become embarrassed about the particular brand of glasses we wear. Or even worse, how much money our parents have to spend on them.

Interestingly, these feelings of embarrassment stem from our baseline understanding of normal, and any subsequent deviation from it. After all, nobody feels embarrassed for just being normal.

But our understanding of normal is an entirely subjective measurement most often defined by the social circles with which we surround ourselves.

This may be best illustrated by a hypothetical situation to which almost all of us can relate: outerwear.

Most of your friends probably wear similar clothing to you. Not that everyone has the same taste in fashion, but generally speaking, there are lots of similarities. You shop at many of the same stores… your closets are similarly sized… and the dollar amounts spent on any one outfit probably don’t vary too greatly.

This is true because most of us choose to spend our personal time with people who are strikingly similar. We feel comfortable and accepted among them.

But when you are pulled from your regular social circle, you may begin to notice and feel self-conscious about things you wouldn’t normally feel that way about.

Imagine attending a party or a work function surrounded by people from a higher socio-economic class. They arrive wearing their fancy dresses and tailored suits. Suddenly, the clothes you used to wear with no misgivings begin to feel and look different. You notice they are a little faded, not quite as fitted, or a specific brand not nearly as expensive as the clothes being worn around you.

And in this moment, you begin to feel a tinge of embarrassment—not because the clothes are any different from what you normally wear, but because your immediate culture’s expression of normal has changed dramatically.

As I mentioned, for most of us, these feelings of embarrassment did not end when we graduated school. They continue even into adulthood.

Here’s my point and why I think this is important. As a parent living in the suburbs, I am beginning to notice an unfortunate, dangerous trend:

We are getting embarrassed over all the wrong things. (tweet that)

Because we live in a culture that normalizes the pursuit of appearances, possessions, and selfish gain, feelings of awkwardness and shame surface when we do not measure up in these areas.

We get embarrassed that our clothes are last year’s fashion, that our vehicle costs less than the neighbor’s, or that our house is smaller than our guest’s. We apologize for the worn carpet, make excuses for the outdated kitchen, or point out specifically why we haven’t updated the countertops yet.

Because those pursuits and values have become normalized, we are prone to feel embarrassment over them—even if there is nothing wrong with the things we already have. This experience (or fear) of embarrassment fuels our urge to own more.

But what would happen if we stopped getting embarrassed over the wrong things and started pursuing the right things?

What if, instead of being embarrassed over the brand of our clothing, we became embarrassed over the size of our walk-in closet?

What if, instead of being embarrassed over the type of car we drive, we became embarrassed over how often we take that luxury for granted?

What if, instead of being embarrassed because our house is too small, we became embarrassed over the amount of unused space within it?

What if, instead of being embarrassed over the quality and quantity of our possessions, we became embarrassed over how much money we have spent on our own selfish pursuits?

What if excess became the embarrassment? And responsible living that championed generosity became the norm?

Maybe then, we could become a little more proud of normal.

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