An Unfortunate Empathy

An Unfortunate Empathy


            Embarrassment is a sort of allergic reaction that some people just never get. My sister used to rub poison ivy on me as a child in a futile attempt to infect me with it, in the process only infecting her own sticky hands, despite the bright yellow rubber. Embarrassment, however, affects me quite differently, clothing itself in bright crimson until I find a way to laugh it off and abruptly change the subject. The worst, cringing allergy I’ve discovered is the empathetic embarrassment, for someone else.

We all have one. The friend that’s impossible to embarrass. The friend that despite mishaps, wishing-the-earth-would-envelope-you-moments, inappropriate comments, and awkward silences prevails with an oblivious smile and collective laugh. My unembarassable friend is particularly annoying because imbedded in his inability to be embarrassed, is my empathy. This unfortunate closeness results in my life playing out like a movie. I sit in the audience watching his character experience moment after moment of embarrassment with his lack of acknowledgement and my uncomfortable shift in my hypothetical seat. Line after line of anti-climatic dinner stories told with the awkward, would think to be nervous laughter. His charismatic personality, easy going nature, and impeccable comedic timing, usually leaves him the life of the party. Every so often his humor is taking a short lived hiatus, resulting in the moments of embarrassment, not for him, but for me.

Often in the public eye, he speaks to large groups of college students, myself included, and I find myself sinking lower and lower in my seat with my left hand strategically hiding my face as his intended jokes leave the room quiet and uncomfortable. I find myself wishing I could laugh when nothing is funny more easily and less forced in a desperate attempt to infect the audience with the slow-clap effect. Where one person starts and the crowd follows suit.

Ryan Alea Young

October 2007


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