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Sunday, March 4, 2012

How to make a fool of yourself 101

In this Occidental world that celebrates individuality, the ego sometimes takes excessive proportions. Too often, it's all about "me, myself and I". I don't remember where I read it, but someone recently suggested that to shrink all those overinflated egos that abound, we should, in lieu of spending energy on personal growth, try to focus on personal de-growth (or decay, or decline). Instead of targeting all our efforts on ourselves, instead of always trying to become better, we should endeavour to make ourselves less perfect, less strong, less important. Instead of protecting our ego, we should embrace...

... vulnerability. After all, vulnerability is an understated, and underrated, quality. Yet is is in vulnerability that we create our strongest connections. Opening up and sharing our weaknesses with a trustworthy friend or family member is a quick path to intimacy, complicity, attachment. Imperfection elicits sympathy and compassion. It is reassuring to see imperfection in others. We often (consciously or not) try to impress others, but the real way to make good friends is to let our imperfections shine! Asking for help is an other way to foster attachement. It has been shown that helping someone makes us feel connected to them, makes us care even more about them. So go ahead, ask for help! Finally, auto derision (making fun of oneself) is a sure and healthy way to make people laugh. And people just love to laugh.

According to Brené Brown, professor/researcher of Social Work, "vulnerability is [nothing less than] the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change". For a nice talk by her on the power of vulnerability, click here. Here are some of the things she says during that talk:

"In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen. Really seen. Deeply seen."
"Vulnerability is necessary, as in being willing to say I love you first, to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out, to love with your whole heart even if there are no guarantees."
"Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love."
"To feel vulnerable is to be alive."


Achilles slays Hector, by Peter Paul Rubens


Brown also stresses the fact that a lot of us, uncomfortable with vulnerability, try to numb it. This might explain, to a certain extent, the skyrocketing levels of debt, obesity, addiction, and over-medication in North America right now. But numbing vulnerability does not work. Apart from numbing the negative, it also numbs everything else: joy, gratitude, happiness. Instead, Brown tells us our job is to simply tell ourselves "I am enough." We'll be kinder to ourselves and others that way. Our job is also to tell children "You are imperfect and wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging".

Today, I have decided to apply those lessons in vulnerability. (I think you should do it too!) And the way I'm gonna do it is by telling you, readers, a few stories. Other than cleaning the toilets, one of the best ways to effectively deflate one's own ego is to tell others tales of the moments you've made a complete fool of yourself. You know, those shameful times when you wished to disappear under the floor, and that you secretly hope no one will ever learn about? Yes, those ones. Well, it's time to tell them publicly. Try it! I assure you it will be very liberating.

I'm a fool # 1

I am sitting in a literature class with a dozen of other graduate students. The professor asks the group, "Who has read Victor Hugo?" I raise my hand like a shot, as do most of my classmates. The professor looks at me: "Which ones of his works have you read, J?" I am ready to open my mouth and name a few. This is when my mind suddenly decides to go blank. Like completely blank. As far as my nut bag of a brain is concerned, I might as well have never read one book in my whole life. And who's that Victor Hugo anyways?

Victor Hugo


(To those who don't know him, Victor Hugo was a very famous and very prolific French writer of the nineteenth century. He is, among others, the author of Notre-Dame de Paris - in English The Hunchback of Notre Dame - and Les Misérables. His books are translated and read all around the world. The two aforementioned ones have been adapted for musicals and cinema. To be a French Literature Masters student and not be able to name any of his books is akin to being a Medical student who wouldn't be able to locate the the skull on a skeleton.)

When I come back to my senses, the professor has changed topics already. Still, I want to drown under my desk.

I'm a fool # 2

Speaking of drowning. Here are two facts about me: a) I am a swimmer 2) When it comes to swimming, I tend to be a little bit of a show off. Whenever I enter a body of water, be it a swimming pool or a lake, I like to swim some butterfly... partly because I enjoy it, but mostly because butterfly never fails to impress onlookers. Yes, I'm that vain. So here I am during my vacation in Cuba, enjoying the warm water and the waves, when I suddenly decide that all those beachcombers are due for a show. Let's swim some butterfly, I tell myself. And so I start swimming. It flows, it is fluid, it is strong. I feel great. On top of the world. (On top of the ocean would be more accurate). This is when something else, as flowing, as fluid, and as strong, hits me right in the mouth: a huge wave. I half swallow, half breathe in, a generous amount of saltwater. I try to pretend nothing's happened, but when I try to discretely cough, nothing comes out. I try to inhale. Nothing comes in. Starting to panic, I get on my feet. Still, no air is coming either in nor out. I am truly and fully choked. Like in I'm gonna turn purple soon if I don't de-choke myself quickly. I forcefully try to cough. Nothing. I try harder. Finally, a faint cough works. Inhaling is as difficult. I takes me about 5 minutes to regain my normal breathing. So much for the butterfly show!

I'm a fool # 3

This one has to be the most mortifying. Imagine a first date with a super handsome, smart, funny, strong (karate black belt) guy whom you never thought would lay his eyes on you, yet here you are sitting in front of him in a restaurant because he actually asked you out. The food is good, the conversation is flowing. You discuss common interests, and they are numerous. You laugh together. You're thinking this evening is going really well and that you might have won the jackpot with this date! All the while putting some ketchup on your fries, you tell him witty things that make his smile widen and his eyes sparkle. While you're chewing on a mouthful of fries, he replies with a hilarious comment. You burst out laughing. You laugh so hard you almost choke (what's with the choking, anyways?) You laugh so much it makes you cry. Your laugh is such that you start to snort. And then some. As if this wasn't enough, the snort is accompanied by a leak of the nose... but not any kind of leak. What is coming out of my nose is red. It is KETCHUP.

My beau's smile is gone. He is staring at me, and his eyes are not sparkly anymore. I quietly wipe my nostrils with my napkin, but I know the damage is done: I have successfully ruined the moment, and probably the date altogether.

Now your turn to dig into your shameful memories!

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