We’ve all been there at some point in our lives… that moment when somebody describes or explains something to you and you act as if you know what they’re talking about, when really you don’t. You don’t stop to ask, because it makes you feel stupid. And you don’t want to be seen as stupid or ignorant. You don’t want to embarrass yourself.
We do this because early on we were “taught” that asking was wrong. Somebody embarrassed us for wanting to know something, whether they knew the answer or not. They may have even laughed at us; a parent, a grandparent, a sibling, a teacher, a friend, a neighbour, a classmate or a stranger. Usually somebody we felt safe with (or hoped to feel safe with), until based on their jarring response, we didn’t feel safe anymore.
It happens at home and at school. There’s always that “smart one” who likes to demean us. A teacher who has taken to singling us out as the weak one. A family member who, out of jealousy or low self esteem, makes us their target to bring us down and feel falsely superior. It even happens out of unconscious comments like, “Oh, don’t be silly…” that somehow stick with us and grow over time. “Don’t be silly” becomes “don’t be stupid”.
Stupid implies not knowing. Not knowing triggers embarrassment and shame. Shame feeds unworthiness. Unworthiness breeds lack and conflict. Conflict means complicated. Complicated means needing to create solutions. But those solutions require… asking questions that we feel embarrassed to ask.
Inevitably, we come full circle with a push-pull that’s grown stronger over time and experiences. Yet, the only way through is facing those very questions that stir up feelings of embarrassment within us. By asking those questions, we get to release ourselves from Embarrassment Prison. After what for some people might be many years, what would that feel like?
Get comfortable asking embarrassing questions that will inevitably help you to grow…
The truth is, even CEOs and celebrities hide behind questions that might embarrass them to ask. Why? Because in some circles there’s still an old stigma that not knowing = being weak or stupid. Yet it’s simply not true. Wanting to know is a sign of good personal stewardship and good leadership. So there it is, a chance for you to grow and help others grow too.
On the other side of embarrassment is knowledge, self empowerment, relief, confidence. Who doesn’t want to feel those things?
What’s an embarrassing question you can ask right now to create a breakthrough for yourself?
Now, let’s take it a step further…
What if we learned to make it safe for kids to ask what they need to ask? Instead of pushing them away with comments like, “Don’t you know that already?” or “You ask too many questions,” we could seek to soothe that part of us that was wounded by those very questions, and give them what we never got — answers and kindness.
Telling a kid, “I don’t know the answer, but let’s find out together, shall we?” shows them it’s okay not to have all the answers and that it’s safe to ask for help to find them.
Because if we don’t help them, they’ll look for answers with their fellow youth and teenagers who are in a similar situation of dejection and lack of information… and they might fail together.
“If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”
– Matthew 15:14
This usually implies more conflict and problems. Think of how many things kids look up online or on social media, often idolising people who have no relation to them whatsoever, whose agendas and intentions are not clear. If we want to help set them up for success in life, kids need to feel certain safety whilst seeking knowledge, and we need to help create that space with them.
We could do this between adults too, instead of acting immature or competing to see who’s smarter. Smart might win some races, but it won’t beat mental or emotional intelligence in the long run.
Learn to ask questions you feel embarrassed to ask, and show others it’s okay to do so, because this way, everyone learns together and our world becomes a safer place.