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Embarrassed to be socially unacceptable


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Last week, I wrote about how we often think too much about things. We are better striking a balance between thinking about what we are going to do and just getting on with it. Our behaviour can also make us feel embarrassed, even when we’ve done nothing wrong. Why do we feel embarrassed?

We tend to feel embarrassed when we feel we have done something socially unacceptable and we are being judged for it. It is a mark against our self image and makes us feel bad. We are social animals, we like to fit in and feel accepted. Criticism by other members of the groups that we belong to, gives us an incentive to behave in an acceptable way. Embarrassment is a primitive emotion, as are all emotions. It goes back to when our ancestors lived in groups in caves. It was unacceptable to do certain things in the cave, mostly to do with bodily functions. It became embarrassing as we were rejected or shunned by the tribe.

The emotion is very old, but the word embarrassing is relatively new. It is attributed to Samuel Pepys who first used it in his diary in 1664. We become embarrassed when we feel we are being judged. We commit a faux pas, an error that goes against what is perceived to be acceptable. It can be our behaviour, the way we look, the way we sound or even the way we smell that can be seen as socially unacceptable. We can even find the embarrassment of others embarrassing; we laugh  at someone who slips on a banana skin or on ice.

We often go to great lengths to try to impress people whose opinion we care about and whose negative opinion would have a negative affect on our self image. That could be our boss or someone we look up to. We dress in a way that we think will be acceptable. The way we dress and behave can be a matter of status, but we aren’t afraid to be different in front of people whose views we don’t care about. For example, we might care about what people think in our own social class, but not care what people think who belong to a ‘lower’ social class. This tendency to care what people think, who belong to our ‘tribe’ and not care about outsiders can lead to discrimination. Outsiders can be anyone who is different. People who are of a different race, people who are of a different class, people of different sexual orientation and anyone else who is different. This can lead to an undertone of discrimination against people who are unemployed, who are disabled, who are older, who are sick or even a little over-weight.

In a perfect society where no one does anything wrong. A society that was once described as a ‘society of angels’, everything embarrassing would be a crime. Imagine a society, where everything had to be perfect, where you wasn’t allowed a tiny stain on your clothes or a weed on your front lawn. There are some communities where a weed on the front lawn is frowned upon.

A test of our sanity might be how tolerant we are. Do you find yourself often criticising people for their behaviour, even though they aren’t behaving illegally, but in a way that you find unacceptable? Do you make others feel embarrassed, needlessly? People are frequently judged harshly. The disabled will be tested to see if they can do some work, because not working is seen as unacceptable. The unemployed will be required to become more acceptable to society. The sick will be required to behave as instructed. The overweight should behave as instructed and eat as instructed.  We have become a intolerant society and we should judge people less harshly, because we are all different.

We have to learn how to behave and so when we are teenagers and life is changing it is an embarrassing time. For some people the embarrassment continues and we tend to think of them as shy.

We feel less embarrassed in front of our friends, they don’t judge us harshly and we can laugh off life’s little faux pas. It is the intolerant in society that makes society intolerable and embarrassing. Remember that, next time you feel embarrassed. Remember that, next time you are intolerant and need to be more charitable.

Remember, there are more blogs on a zillion ideas. Please comment, if you found today’s post helpful or interesting. Unless of course you’re too embarrassed…

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One response

  1. Pingback: The Saturday review | Winter is coming « Mike10613's Blog

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