Embarrassment a valuable learning tool when used correctly

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 23, 2005

It started out as a casual conversation and ended up a valuable life lesson. Last week I attended a wedding and at an after party I became engaged in a discussion about how a friend was able to determine one identical twin sister from another growing up.

She explained that one twin had curly hair and the other had straight hair, which made it easy to distinguish the two…that is, until Curly (I will refer to her as Curly of Curly Sue throughout the column to protect her true identity) got her hair caught in a pea-sheller. After that, the hair grew back straight and it was back to the drawing board.

The story had a lot more substance because the former Miss Curly Sue was there to hear. She was absolutely mortified and I could tell she wanted to crawl under a rock. That is the awesome power of embarrassment. Many times in sibling rivalry we use embarrassing stories to get the upper hand. For instance, I have gotten no end of mileage out of a story concerning my beloved older sister. Once when she was strolling down the path from my parent’s house to my grandmothers she saw an armadillo tunneling out of his favorite hole. Apparently, this was her first encounter with the then rare animal and she ran home screaming to my mother that the devil was coming out of the ground to get her. I have always found just the ammunition I needed with this story and many others I have kept in my arsenal.

The problem is, I leave two embarrassing stories about myself for every one I save for her and she uses them masterfully. Problem number two comes in that anyone who knows me knows it is easy to make me blush if you push the right buttons.

I have decided it is time for all that to change. Ninety percent of the time I have no shame (just ask my high school teachers and some of my close friends). But lately I have noticed a trend of scaling back to avoid the dreaded “embarrassing story.” I have considered going into a no shame full time mode, but this would cause the complete abandonment of all common sense. I need that common sense to survive.

I don’t know what the perfect solution to my problem is, but I do know this; No human being should live their lives in fear of embarrassment. While I don’t have scientific research to support it I am sure that people who ask stupid questions outnumber their enemies two to one and probably have a longer life expectancy.

I learn more and more each day that embarrassment is the strongest learning tool many of us will ever encounter. Had Curly not encountered the man eating pea-sheller others in her family may have considered it a harmless piece of equipment and a bypass for sore fingers that come with a hard day of shelling. Now they know better and you can be certain Curly loads a sheller from a safe distance and has a lot more respect for belt driven machinery these days. That’s a lesson that could someday save her life.

So don’t live in fear of embarrassment, embrace it. Learn from it and move on to brighter days. And as pea-picking time heats up and the shellers are loaded please remember to wear your hair up or use a net.