I rode my bicycle west on Knickerbocker Ave in Bushwick and stopped at a red light as cars passed through the intersection in front of me When the light turned green, I pedaled forward but stopped abruptly when I saw a yoked-up dude on a mountain bike flying through his red light toward me. Halfway through the intersection, he noticed me and tugged hard on his brakes. I had already stopped so he could have just continued riding through the intersection. Instead we were stuck in the middle of the intersection, trying to figure out who would proceed first. The line of cars next to me waited for the man to go. They were heated. Meanwhile, he waited for me to go. He was heated.
'You go,' I said.
'No. You go,' he growled.
But I didn't go. So finally he pedaled forward and started cursing me out, saying "Why the fuck did you stop, fuckin' asshole?" Stuff like that. A few people on the sidewalk witnessed the stand-off and heard the cursing, which made me feel a little embarrassed. Made me want to yell back at him. Something like, "No, you ran the red light. You're the asshole, asshole!"
But I didn't yell. Instead, I stewed as I dodged the potholes and chewed up asphalt. I thought about his reaction and I fantasized about the perfect response, something that would have really hurt his feelings. Then, after a few blocks, I realized that he probably felt embarrassed because he had blown through a red light, cut off a bunch of cars and then almost crashed into me. He couldn't keep it moving. He was too flustered. He had to curse me out.
We perceive embarrassment, uncertainty and insecurity as weak emotions. Anger is strength. So the man lashed out and put his negative emotions onto me. Had I yelled back, I would have only escalated the situation. Then we'd really be at a dangerous impasse. So in that way, I let him through twice.
Those encounters happened every day, but that one stuck out to me as a reminder about the power of embarrassment to escalate potentially bad situations. Accepting and processing embarrassment is not an option to many people, especially men. So we save face by blaming, by lashing out, by challenging someone else and by sucking them into our tension.
What helps me power through embarrassment is to note my mistakes, try not to do them again and then consider that very few people in the world actually care about me or what I do.