We all had our share of awkward moments. That awkward moment when you punch the air for a hi5 but the other person doesn’t reciprocate. That awkward moment when you go in for a hug but the other person doesn’t hug back. That awkward moment when you release a bit of gas in a quiet room and pretended it was not you. That awkward moment when you had the bathroom stall to yourself for a big dump only to find out there were other people in the stall next to you.
As much as it makes us squirm in our chairs, we cannot deny we were one of two people in situations like these. You are either embarassed or you witnessed an embarrassing moment. People often talk about how they reacted if they experienced an embarrassing moment. However, no one discusses how to react AS A witness to embarrassing situations. Do we just look away? Do we just ignore it? Do we laugh? Do we make a joke? Do we change the topic? What do we do? As much as people hate it the most, being a witness to an embarrassing moment is difficult because deep down inside we want to laugh but at the same time we want to be courteous and not say anything. What a struggle, to control two emotions at once. Believe it or not, how we react tells us a lot about our personalities.
What would you do?
So how would you react if you realized I have a lipstick stain on my teeth or some spinach stuck in the crevice of my tooth? Are you the type of person to say, “Hey Krystle, you have spinach on your teeth?” or would you simply be the type of person to stare with a discomfort on your face like you just witnessed your worst nightmare?
Social Scientists have termed this as “vicarious embarrassment” where you empathize with the person who is living an embarrassing situation without knowing it. The higher the empathy the more prone we are to feel discomfort when witnessing an embarrassing situation. That look of discomfort can be described as a “cringe worthy moment.”
Cringe Worthy Moments
I’m sure many of you have naturally cringed when you watch American Idol and the person on national tv sings horribly. You want to turn the channel because you cannot stand to watch someone’s humiliation. Some cringe worthy moments I have experienced, and I’m sure many of you have experienced as well, includes: seeing a lady with a huge rip in her pants, a man who trailed toilet paper on his shoes after leaving the bathroom, a woman walking in stilettos taking a huge fall, and a girl who had a period blood stain on her pants.
According to social scientists we are one of two people, those who feel external shame and empathy for victims of embarrassing moments and those who find humour and delight in other’s embarrassment. If you’re someone who loves watching episodes of “The Office” and find amusement in other people’s awkwardness you are definitely someone who finds humour in everything.
It is not necessarily a bad thing if you laugh. Some might find it rude, but “laughing” would be the best way to cope with it. Simply because any pain of external shame from witnessing an embarrassing moment is already difficult in itself. So why prolong the discomfort when you can simply laugh at it.
So in this day and age, you would think embarrassing situations are contained. In that millisecond when you watched someone fall and slip or when you see someone bend over with a huge crack in their pants, the moment lives on for a few minutes then it fades away. Taken over my life’s other mundane worries.
Fortunately, for our generation embarrassing situations go viral, ON THE INTERNET. With my handy-dandy phone or my handy-dandy camera, I can snap a picture of you in your moment of drunken glory and post it on my facebook. With a simple button, I can record you dozing off and drooling at your desk and post it on youtube. With a simple tweet or status update I can let all my one thousand friends know what I just witnessed and with a simple upload I can post that video or picture on a website that finds humour in human failures.
I’m sure many of you have seen or taken part in this trend. One of my many favorite websites to check regularly is EpicFail.com that posts picture of people, signs, situations that are just embarrassing and awkward. People rate it, comment it, and the link gets passed around all over the world. Another one of my favourites is lamebook.com where people take screenshots of friends status updates with typos and embarrassing photos made public. Another one I would like to share with you is damnyouautocorrect.com where people who send text messages with autocorrect turned on would send messages that are completely different than intended.
These websites flourish on viral embarrassments, which turn embarrassing “moments” into lifetime embarrassments.