For much of my life I have tried to avoid humiliation. And not just humiliation but even the potential and possibility of embarrassment and humiliation. For whatever reason, I flinched from being myself out of the fear of being ridiculed for it.
I have a vivid memory of being in fourth grade and trying to get my teacher’s attention. There was some sort of classroom party going on, and the teacher was speaking with two other teachers. I spoke softly at first, “Mrs. Hornyak? Mrs. Hornyak?” I didn’t mean to interrupt them, but I needed something, probably permission to leave class and use the restroom. “Mrs. Hornyak? MOM?”
That last one got through to her, and she and the other two teachers burst out laughing. I flushed with embarrassment. I castigated myself, dumb dumb dumb, how could you do something so dumb?
And for years after the incident, just recalling it would cause my cheeks to flush and my hands to freeze. The memory of embarrassment was that strong in me. It was a monster, reminding me just how horrible it was to be embarrassed. Making me look for ways to avoid that pain.
And the thing about that particular memory is that no one else noticed or cared. My classmates were busy doing something else, and the teachers had a little laugh and moved on. The embarrassment, the humiliation, the red cheeks and icy hands – all of it was internal. Caused by me, remembered only by me.
And that embarrassment did not serve me. Remembering it so viscerally did not serve me. These things only served the monster that does not want me to be myself. The fear of ridicule has kept me from trying so many times in my life.
I eventually figured out how to let go of the bodily feeling bringing up that memory used to cause. I detached the emotions from the memory. But I still feared ridicule. I hesitated to be a fool.
Over the weekend, I went backpacking. It was rainy and cold, and that meant that my husband and I spent a lot of time in the tent. The inactivity gives me time to think and roll ideas around and I thought about how I fear to put myself out there, to put my opinions and thoughts and experiences in a form that can be seen. Yes, I publish my books, but they are deeply personal and I have convinced myself that I am allowed to publish those because no one else has the authority to contradict my personal experiences.
And so I must ask myself, what is so wrong with being a fool?
What is so wrong with being thought a fool?
What are the consequences exactly?
What am I so afraid of?