Monday, June 25, 2012

be the change

"Be the change you wish to see in the world."  ---maybe Ghandi, but definitely a nice-sounding bumper sticker

I have issues with embarrassment.

I'll often be furtive about or even completely hide some things I do from view, because of fear of embarrassment.  And no, I didn't mean that.  Get your mind out of the gutter.

I'm talking about little things.

  • I time my afternoon walks such that I can slip out and back while people are at lunch.  There's no work-related problem with my taking these breaks; I just for some reason choose to be subtle about it and avoid the topic with coworkers.  
  • When shopping, I pick up travel-sized foods like easy-open cans of beans and packets of nuts that are on sale, and then make little packets to give out to the homeless I drive by in my city.  I can't simply ignore them, but I hate the impersonality of just handing over a few dollars.  I like being able to provide something a trifle more thoughtful, something that might offer a little decent nutrition in a lifestyle that probably doesn't afford much by way of real food.  Besides, I buy the stuff on sale when I'm at the store anyway, so it's a dirt cheap little hobby.  But I hide the packets under the passenger seat, and won't stop to hand one out if anyone else is in the car.  
  • When out walking by myself I automatically pick up any litter I run across, but if I'm walking with company I'll usually walk right by it, pretending not to notice. 

There's no sensible reason to feel ashamed of these actions.  I'm not claiming they make me an awesome person, but they're certainly not shame-worthy.  So why do I go to such ridiculous lengths to hide them?  Because I'm afraid of a discussion about why I do them?  Because someone might think I'm weird?  Because I just lack strength of character?

Recently, I found myself hoofing it through a city with several family members when vacationing.  There was trash everywhere.  I walked past the first few pieces, while lecturing myself to get over the embarrassment and just pick it up.  I argued to myself that it would be weird, it would slow us down, it was silly.  Finally I bit the bullet, swooped down, and snagged a styrofoam cup as I walked past.  I carefully didn't look at anyone and put on my best impression of nonchalance.

Then the most amazing thing happened.  Suddenly, everyone was stopping to pick up bits of trash!  We had handfuls of it by the time we got to a bin, and my husband even pointed out a few on my side that I was in danger of missing.

Rather than earning criticism, my insignificant little act of bravery spurred more action in turn.  And that one stretch of sidewalk was made that much more pleasant.

This is a silly little example, and just illustrates how strangely my mind works.  But imagine what could happen if we all did exactly what we felt was right, without the fear of judgement.  Where might it lead?  Who knows, but it would probably make the world a little bit better.  Every bit certainly helps.

For me, I'm going to work on banishing my fear of embarrassment and behaving the same way whether I'm watched or not.  It won't be easy, but I think it will be worth it.

The challenge: do something you're afraid of.  Even if it's silly.  See what happens.  

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