Some years ago I was walking down Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Roughly 20 minutes and several blocks into my stroll I realized that the hem of my skirt was tucked into my waistband and my whole backside was showing.  

I had passed at least a hundred people and had no idea how many behind me getting a good view of my butt.  

Naturally, I was embarrassed. Although I wasn’t with anyone and no one spoke in passing, I could feel myself blush as I tried to discretely adjust my clothes. I wonder if the people around me were too embarrassed to tell me about my difficulty. It reminds me of how I didn’t tell a friend about the food stuck in his teeth. Who was I protecting, him or myself?

My students have heard me say that embarrassment can kill. It keeps us from asking for help when we need it or refusing to ride with a driver who has had too much to drink. We may be too embarrassed to tell a police officer that we think we are being followed because we aren’t sure. We may wait too long to ask for a ride to the emergency room because we might be just having gas pains and besides we don’t want to break up a party.  There are many situations where embarrassment can lead to poor choices, even deadly ones. I have heard of people who even considered suicide because they could not face an embarrassing situation.  

There is no question that embarrassment can result in serious consequences. I have gone so far as to assign activities to address this. They are designed to promote safety. Do something embarrassing if you think you are about to be accosted and you may find that it confuses the suspected offender who decides you may not be the best victim. It suggests that you are too unpredictable.  

Embarrassment has another side. I was embarrassed for maybe a minute on Michigan Avenue, but I have had hours of fun telling the story since then. Realizing this, when I find myself blushing from a situation I have at times reminded myself that it will make a good story later.

I have the perfect audience for these stories in the form of a granddaughter who loves to hear about my awkward moments. I confess that I enjoy hers as well. It is a special kind of sharing, revealing us as very human and being able to laugh at ourselves with someone.  

Consider thinking about your embarrassment and recognizing its impact on you. Is it preventing you from taking the best and safest action? Or is it something that will make a good story later?

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