Life’s Funny That Way: Embarrassing Moments Mean You’re Human

EmbarrassmentEmbarrassment—mortification, even—happens. And there’s two choices we can make…roll with it and laugh, thereby keeping our dignity—or make a fuss, thereby making it worse for ourselves. embarrassment

Mistakes happen because we’re human…not because we’re stupid, as can be the oft-held belief (it’s one I hear often with clients…that if they’d “only known” they wouldn’t have been “so stupid” or looked “so stupid”.  But if you didn’t know—how could you know?)

Many years ago, my indoctrination to beer was on Coors, Heineken — decent enough — and Mickey’s…that’s what we had in the house, and I was allowed a sip or two. Later it was Henry Weinhards, and, whilst in the Air Force, it was Whatever Else Someone Was Buying and/or Was Cheap. Translation = Miller Lite.

I have, of course, since widened my taste and selection. I am from Portland, after all. They say you know you’re in Seattle because it’s bookstore, coffee shop, bookstore, coffee shop; you know you’re in Portland because it’s bookstore, coffee shop, micro-/craft brewery…bookstore, coffee shop, micro-/craft brewery….

But I digress.

Roll back maybe 20 years ago.

My my mother, my brother, my best friend and I (my parents were divorced by then)—it’s possible my best friend was there, too — were in a McMenamins restaurant (McMenamins is a popular chain of brewpubs throughout Oregon and Washington; the family is known for buying old, rundown landmark-oriented buildings—like old schools—and turning them into breweries, restaurants and hotels).

At the time I was a neophyte to this whole microwbrew thing (actually, the microbrew phenomenon was still essentially a gleam in the Widmer Brothers’ eyes). Things like dubbels and tripels and dunkels were completely out of my vocabulary. The fanciest I’d get was a Henry Weinhard lager. I wasn’t even much of a beer drinker back then, really.

So here we are,  my mother my brother and me, at the McMenamins in Corvallis, OR (the first location in town; now there’s two). I decided a beer sounded good.

By then, I had an understanding, at least of what a stout was (dark beer with hints of chocolate and coffee). But there, on the menu, was a type of beer that confused me as no description followed it: I.P.A.

Now, let me say in my pre-defense that IPA is an acronym. And, generally, acronyms are pronounced like full words. You know, like NASA and UNICEF and SYSCO. It never occured to me that you’d say it like the shortening of a university—OSU or MIT. You don’t say “oh-soo” or “mitt”.

Curiosity piqued, I decided to ask our server about this mysterious, acronym-named beer. So when he arrived at our table, I piped up, “What’s an ‘eepah’?”

He paused, pen and notepad poised for order-taking, and scrunched his eyes at me as if he were a nearsighted fellow trying to make out my features as he’d forgotten his glasses. “An ‘eepah’?” he asked.

“Yes. An ‘eepah’? I’ve always wanted to know.’

He stared at me, blinking, nose and eyes wrinkling a bit more as the wheels and gears turned in his head, trying to figure out what I meant.

I held up the menu and tapped it.  “You have stout, red and eepah. I understand what a stout is–but what’s an eepah?”

He burst into laughter. When he finally managed to collect his wits back about himself, he said (wiping a tear or two from his eyes), “Eye pee aye. It stands for ‘India Pale Ale’.”

I felt everything grow still in me as my body threw its entire effort of existence into making every nodule of my skin turn dark red; I could even feel my scalp get tight. “Oh,” I said, grinning—but somewhere between rather embarrassed and mortified. “Ha ha.” (I’d noticed the periods between the letters, but it still didn’t click). “I’d like to try that, please.”

He took our order and walked away, still laughing, muttering, “Eepah—!” as he walked away. As he went back to the kitchen area, I heard him say to his friends, “Oh—you gotta hear this!” (Somewhere, he’s probably still telling that story. Heck, I still tell the story to beer aficionados and brewers.)

Of course, this was a ripe moment for my little brother, who was about 14 at the time.

He snorted at me, grinned, rolled his eyes and said, “Dork.  Even I know that, and I don’t even drink.” (Ah, little brothers.  So adorable, so annoying. Still.) I do love the guy, though.

(I should note that I.P.A. is my favorite style beer now.)embarrassment embarrassment embarrassment.

The waiter returned with our drinks and, grinning, said, “Here’s your eee-pah.”  I had to laugh. (At least I didn’t say “ab-vee” for ABV, or alcohol by volume.)

Now, as in any good family and set of friends, this story is still told. Even my father, who wasn’t there, likes to tell it.

And I tell this story to you now because it illustrates a moment where I had a choice of two different ways of reacting.

I could have taken the mistake as something egregiously mortifying, propelling me into mortified tears and a desire to claw a hole in the floor and hide for the next 20 years…and continue to feel that way every time the story was repeated. Taken a very innocent mistake as a failure. That I was stupid.embarrassment embarrassment embarrassment.

Instead, I chose to roll with it in great humor. As I said above, not only does my family love to relate the story (my brother has told it, in my presence, to at least three or four of his friends), I do too. For one, it’s hilarious. And cute. Laughing at yourself is a strength. Heck, I even once emailed Dogfish Head in Delaware to tell them how glad I was I could buy their beers here in Oregon—and to relate that story to them. I did the same for Schmaltz Beer in New York.

In both cases, I received delighted email replies from their marketing directors telling me they “couldn’t wait” to pass along that story.

I’m sure it’s been related far beyond my scope of immediate friends. Andy Warhol said everyone gets fifteen minutes of fame. Mine stretched across an entire continent.

So are mistakes signs of personal weaknesses and failures? Of stupidity? No. They’re signs you’re human. embarrassment embarrassment embarrassment.

And what makes you even more human and filled with strength is when you choose to laugh at them. Most of the time, we’re so focused on the “fiasco” as such a deep failure we froth it up to a level of magnification that could make the lenses on the world’s largest microscope seem puny. embarrassment embarrassment embarrassment.

Instead, if we choose to carry the moment with humor and grace, we let go of possible trauma we’re actually making for ourselves. By choice. Our level of suffering over something almost never has anything to do with the actual incident it self and everything to do with how we choose to react to it. embarrassment embarrassment embarrassment.

Humor, when executed from the heart (not out of a defense mechanism), diffuses all kinds of situations and eradicates not only our suffering suffering…or at least lessens it greatly…but the suffering of other people. 

The skill of laughing at ourselves is a wonderfully beneficial one to incorporate into how we go about life.

I’ve since then had many other moments where I’ve had an embarrassing experience…but that’s okay.  Laughing about it, even when completely red-faced creates respect, for yourself, and for the person involved.  And if someone else is the one that’s mortified, that same level of grace and (gentle) humor can do a world of good for them.

Self-acceptance and self-compassion are two enormously important aspects to growth, change and having an overall satisfaction in life that creates continual room for improvement.

Sometimes, forgiving others is much easier than forgiving ourselves.  But to paraphrase Alexander Pope, To err is human, to forgive ourselves is the most divine thing of all.

Questions?  Comments? Quips or quotes?  I’d love to get feedback about the site and the info.  Email me at heather (at) smallchangelife (dot) org or drop by my Facebook page and leave me a message, or Tweet me @SmChangeLife.



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