Who doesn’t hate an awkward moment? Sometimes I close my eyes during a movie when I am embarrassed for the actors caught in awkwardness, even though I know it’s all fake. Ever wondered why awkwardness make us cringe and activate our fight or flight mechanism?
The answer . . . awkwardness feels rude and uncomfortable because it makes us feel like we are not seen or wanted for who we are. It makes us retreat from people. It pulls us away from each other. Awkwardness ignores our stories, our hopes, our fears. It is an enemy of belonging.
Good news is . . . awkwardness can be neutralized. Here’s an example of how from Karen Mains’ book, Open Heart Open Home.
Many years ago, author Jeanne Hille wrote in Reader’s Digest that, while her mother was the one long on etiquette, insisting on flowers in the house as well as a white starched tablecloth and napkins for each evening meal, it was really her father who taught her the most significant lesson in manners.
A sixteen-year-old Ozark lad had been hired to help dig out the storm cellar, and as the afternoon stretched into the evening, he was invited to sit down at the family dinner. . . all of them took up their forks. All of them except this gangly teen – he picked up his knife. Noticing the custom of this house, he picked up his fork to copy the manner of the family, and soon beans and gravy tumbled awkwardly down his front.
The author remembers an embarrassed silence beginning to grip the room, and just when it seemed nothing could redeem the situation, her father lay aside his own fork, picked up his knife, and casually ladled both beans and gravy into his mouth. The evening was saved, and the hill-born lad happily resumed his familiar eating habit.
After the guest was gone, the father received much acclaim from other family members, but he turned the comments aside, stating ‘Good manners are nothing more than making the other person feel at ease.
Starting soon, we will share letters we’ve received from our subscribers about awkward situations. We will reply with recommendations on defusing any embarrassment with grace and assurance. Feel free to write us about your own awkward moment to firstname.lastname@example.org (feel free to change names, places, and details to protect the innocent).