It seems I manage to embarrass myself on a daily basis. In fact, it seems like every day presents a unique opportunity to embarrass myself. And I am completely OK with that. It seems I no longer hold on to these moments tightly, and since I no longer hold onto my embarrassment, ie. my shame and discomfort, I am much more free to be light-hearted, much more free to be the occasionally inattentive, sometimes oblivious, dreamer that I am, and hence to embarrass myself yet again.
A few weeks ago I was at a workshop where the goal was really working together closely in an open and loving relationship, and one of the ice breakers was to reveal one of our most embarrassing moments. Truthfully, I was a bit panicked about this. My initial thought was "I don't have any embarrassing moments" which is not at all true. Goodness, much of my youth was spent dwelling on the things I had done to embarrass myself. Needless to say this was not good for my self-esteem.
As stated above I embarrass myself regularly, but most embarrassing moment? The old me, probably would have had a small collection at the ready, a few moments of shame that I carried closely in my breast pocket, always at hand when a little self-negation was required. But since I have let go of shame and self-recrimination, those angry little bullets of pain have proved more elusive to capture. I did come up with something, and I even grew embarrassed telling it as I recalled the feelings of that moment, although secretly I was more embarrassed that I was embarrassed over something so simple. The truth is, that at this moment in my life my most embarrassing moment is my most recent embarrassing moment, and even that is fleeting.
Yesterday morning I was embarrassed that I did not recognize one of my neighbors, mistakenly thinking they were one of the new families moving in, and I welcomed them to the neighborhood. The bad thing is that the husband and I are both on the HOA board, although I could not really see him until he emerged from the car. Oh well. Life goes on. It is possible that I may not always be as silly and mindless as I appear. It is also equally likely that I am not as smart as I occasionally appear either.
But where am I going with this?
In Lisa's Saturday post, she asked that we be civil to each other, that we perhaps even make an effort to go out of our way to be kind and courteous. This sentence, in particular, resonated in my heart for many hours:
“Then since we can’t know about evil, we’ve got to try to be as civil and amiable as we can.”
My neighbors were certainly civil to me while I was dithering away, and I hope they also treated me kindly in their thoughts, I hope they didn't walk in their door muttering to themselves about that "dingbat down the street" but they may have and I would never know. Or would I?
It seems to me that if you make a practice of being civil and being amiable, eventually all that civility will make inroads and civility will come more naturally. One's manner and demeanor might change. One might start to be not just civil, but also kind. One might even come to realize that we are all alike, every last one of us, with good days and bad days, insecurities and strengths. One might graduate from basic civility, Civility 101, if you will, and might grow into something greater, say Civility 201,or basic kindness.
Last year (2014) I gave up cursing at other drivers for lent. Literally. I decided I couldn't mutter "stupid idiot" under my breathe when another driver swerved across 4 lanes of traffic to cut me off and make a left turn from the far right lane. Not only could I not mutter, I decided that I couldn't even curse in my head, not even a minor little slip of "nincompoop" was allowed. Not vocalizing my frustrations was fairly easily, not thinking mean and unkind thoughts was not easy at all. A friend thought I was crazy, and upon comparative reflection, decided that giving up sugar wasn't nearly as hard as he had originally supposed.
The thing is, after 40 days of not swearing at my fellow humans, I kind of got out of the habit. Oh there are still bad drivers out there, and they still annoy me, but they annoy me less. Once I got out of the habit of swearing at everybody, I was much happier, and much more willing to listen to others, much more patient with their actions. Kindness is contagious. Even more surprising, once I stopped swearing at everyone else's mistakes, it eventually occurred to me that I was much harder on myself than anyone else. I realized the profound inconsistency in forgiving other's their mistakes and errors while simultaneously berating myself for every little slip.
By being kind to others I learned to be kinder to myself. You know there is a lesson in that. I don't know about you, but my parent's taught me that I was supposed to treat everyone equally, that I should treat everyone the way that I myself would like to be treated. That is basic civility. In Sunday school I was taught to "love they neighbor as thyself", a passage that comes from the Gospel of Mark. I seem to recall thinking meant the same thing as basic civility. It doesn't of course. Loving thy neighbor, truly loving other people, that is probably graduate level civility, but I digress.
But that line from Mark does point out something really important. "Love thy neighbor as thyself" and "Treat other people as you would like to be treated" are all well and good, but only effective if you treat yourself well also. You can only be kind to others if you are also kind to yourself. And yet even if you are not kind to yourself, but you make the attempt to show kindness to others, difficult as that may be, kindness will repay you in abundance. The kinder you are to others, the kinder you will be toward yourself. The kinder you are to yourself, the happier you will be and your happiness and kindness will spill out to others. The kinder you are to others, the kinder they may eventually be to themselves, and kindness will grow and grow.
Once you let go of self-recrimination you can't really take it back. It is gone. And once you forgive yourself it becomes far easier to forgive others. Civility and kindness come back to you over and over again.
Of course, like everything else we humans undertake, it is not really that simple. The idea is simple, the actuality of letting go of mental baggage is a rather circuitous route. Still, I'd like to think that if we could all just try to be courteous -- one trip to the grocery store at a time, one drive to school and back, one day at a time, one slip-up at a time -- acknowledging that we all have good days and bad days, being kind to each other when we make mistakes, forgiving each other our inconsistencies, that eventually courtesy could be such second nature that we wouldn't remember a time when people weren't courteous, weren't kind. What kind of world would that be? One I'd like to see.