Question 105 of 365: Are we still allowed to be embarrassed?

Blue metal soldiers
Image by slambo_42 via Flickr

You never know if you can fit underneath a metal folding chair until you try.

I used to sing really loud just about any time I got the chance. Ask my childhood neighbors about my lawn mowing falsetto or headphone isolation. I really didn’t have a concept that this wasn’t what other people were doing. I just knew that it made me happy to “project” and feel the conviction of the words as much as I could.

Ultimately though, singing loudly in unison is where it is at. That is why choirs are wonderful. You can surround yourself with a bunch of folks who like to sing for all they are worth. It is also why knowing the rhythm, the words, and the repetitions matters. There is nothing worse than singing loudly while standing next to a whole bunch of other people who like to sing loudly and being entirely out of sync with them.

I think I was 7 when I first noticed this phenomenon. During a particularly passionate religious gathering (another time when it is okay to be around loud singers), a particular song was being sung by a large congregation. This song happened to have a series of “Hey” refrains within it that were to be sung after the right phrases. I was incredibly good at screaming out at those parts and thus adding my own little flavor to the experience. Unfortunately, I didn’t truly understand the nature of the song, because just as it became soft once more, I shouted out the loudest “Hey” I could.

I knew that I had screwed up immediately because everyone (or seemingly so to my 7 year old brain) turned and looked directly at me. It was then that I decided to try and fit underneath my chair. I hid there just long enough for my father to see and come rushing down from his place in the mini-choir up front to try and coax me out. This was not a proud day for my wish to sing out loudly at any chance I got. I was embarrassed to be that off the mark.

And yet, I was allowed to be embarrassed. I was even expected to make that kind of a mistake a 7 year old. I was comforted in my mistake by the fact that other people had done the same thing, even recently. I am afraid now that we are not allowed to be this embarrassed of the decisions we have made. I worry that no one is diving underneath their chairs because of their missteps.

I keep on seeing justifications for wrong doing rather than simple contrite embarrassment. For example, when Google unveiled Buzz within gmail and didn’t fully consider all of the implications of their wide open privacy policies and sharing setup, they encountered huge backlash. All eyes were on them to fix it, which they mostly did. However, instead of simply admitting that they had not fully considered just how important people’s contact privacy is to them, they passed it off as inevitable part of being a “beta” product or of working with customers to find an ideal solution. These kinds of embarrassments are covered over for PR reasons, and yet, I believe that if Google were to have felt the sting more clearly and attempted to crawl underneath their decision to really reconsider their approach it would have garnered a lot of respect. If they would have simply taken the service down for a few hours, talked with some users in an open and honest way (perhaps much in the way that my father took me aside and consoled me for making an awkward decision) and then relaunched with their seal of approval, they would have a viable group of early adopters. As of right now, it seems as though that group is dwindling more by the day for such a service.

Embarrassments should be felt and remembered. It is enough that I remember this event as clear as day as it continues to inform my decisions on trying to do the same things as those others around me. While some people would say that I am advocating for learning from failure, but I see it is as something greater. Failure is a part of every day life. It is common, it a part of the action and reaction of doing your job or being a part of a community. Embarrassment is the feeling of being totally alone and isolated from anyone who is making you to feel embarrassed. While it is an awful experience while it is happening, it is the stuff that character is built directly upon. It is the stuff of origin stories and roads to success. Embarrassment is worth feeling because it allows us to share a common bond of disjointed being. It allows us to have the out of body experience necessary for reflection and change. But this only happens if we let ourselves be embarrassed.

You cannot justify your way out of singing when everyone else is silent. It is best to show your understanding of just how much you were out of sync. So, get down on your hands and knees and start crawling.

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