Today’s Meditation: The Pleasures of Public Confession

I recently started teaching tennis at a nearby adult-getaway tennis camp. I’m feeling my way into the work, and I’ve noted some good things and some bad things about my level. I know the game and I have, I believe, an interesting take on it — that’s a positive. As for the negatives, I seem to be distressingly impaired at two things — remembering my students’ names, and keeping score when I’m on the sidelines coaching my four students. 

With my most recent group, these shortcomings were downright embarrassing. We started at 8:30 in the morning and at 11:30 I was still calling Jason “Brian.” As for my scorekeeping, it was so appalling that I couldn’t keep thoughts like this one from scrolling through my brain: “They’re thinking, ‘This guy is showing his age.'”

I drove home pissed off at myself and resolved to do something about it. I bought two mechanical counters for keeping score (still gotta figure out if I can use them while holding a racket and feeding balls!), and I also decided to write my students’ names down on a Post-It note and somehow attach it to my sweatband until I was quite sure who was whom.

Actions taken! Good for you, Carl! But I still felt ashamed.

And so the next day, when our next session started, I found myself talking about my embarrassment and sharing my resolve to do better. I had their names down by now, so that was history, but the first time I called Jayson ‘Jayson,’ he shook his head and said with a straight face, “It’s Brian.” My heart sank — and then I realized he was ribbing me. We agreed to go with “Melvin” from that point forward.

As for the scorekeeping, I definitely did better on Day Two, but there is still progress to be made.

My point, though, is how good it felt to share my embarrassment. It worked, I think, because I did it with bemusement and humor I didn’t ‘leak’ from a place of cringe-y weakness. I laughed, and they laughed too, and then it was over and no longer a shadow over my time with them.

I find it so easy and so healing to share embarrassing feelings that I am continually bewildered by peoples’ inability or unwillingness to do the same. It’s my take that most people who feel bad about something they’ve done try to squash it rather than bring it out into community. This is what a culture of shaming will do to a person, and it’s why I find my willingness to bring my deficiencies and self-doubts into the light not only a step in the direction of personal health and well-being, but also a political act. I’m modeling a better way to be in the face of a culture that says, “Don’t do it!”

Do you suppress the embarrassing stuff or do you bring it out into community? What has your experience been if you’ve done the latter?

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