By Rebecca Wiessmann
About two months ago, my husband and I went to an open house. Our realtor met us there, and we all really loved the house.
Well, this beautiful house is on a beautiful hill that has a beautiful hillside GRAVEL driveway. As we were leaving and discussing the house, all jovial and hopeful, I (in total accordance with my clumsiness) slipped on the gravel driveway. And I fell hard. And I fell hard in front of at least seven other people.
So, as I sat on the gravel driveway, I could see that I had indeed ripped my jeans from the fall. And it HURT, like really hurt, but not like I needed an amputation hurt. Of course, my husband and our realtor were right with me when it happened. And then all the other remaining families rushed to my side to make sure I was okay.
I was pretty sure I was fine.
I started to roll up my pant leg to see if I was bleeding and needed a bandage. As I was doing this, a small crowd was gathering. When I got my pant leg above my knee, there was a collective gasp from everyone now surrounding me. Even I was shocked. … There was what my realtor described as a pocket in my knee. I had hit one of those big gravel rocks at just the right angle with just the right force, and you could see … well, I won’t get too graphic. But it was pretty bad.
To my great embarrassment, these friendly strangers now surrounding me helped load me into the back of my car, and my husband rushed me off to the emergency room. Six stitches, and a mercifully short two hours later, I was on my way home.
My husband did such a good job taking care of me. He set me up with my leg elevated and brought me anything I needed. But I soon realized that he was wracked with guilt. I had no idea why.
As he tells it, while I was sitting on the ground and people started surrounding me and I started rolling up my pant leg, our realtor asked if she should call an ambulance. He stated (and at the time, justifiably so): “No, we don’t need an ambulance.” It was an innocent statement that came before the crowd (and my husband) saw the gash in my knee.
I had no memory of this statement. When our realtor called a few days later to check on me, and he profusely started apologizing, she had no memory of that statement. Not only were people not holding it against him … no one had even noticed he said it. Even still, it was causing him so much guilt.
The Spotlight Effect
There is a concept in social psychology referred to as the spotlight effect. The basic concept is that we tend to overestimate how closely people are paying attention to what we do or say. We lie awake in bed at night obsessing over that one stupid thing we said in high school 20 years ago. We worry that a stranger we will never see again perceived our lane change on the highway as cutting them off.
In reality, we all encounter hundreds of sensory experiences every day. We can’t possibly remember them all. And we tend to focus on the ones that directly relate to ourselves.
This means that the lane change you might be obsessing about is probably forgotten by the other driver and replaced by experiences that are much more related to their own life.
I remember that day for the embarrassment of the fall and the subsequent helping hands of kind strangers. My husband could only focus on this one offhanded comment that no one even remembered. In reality, everyone else in the situation has already moved on to other things, and it is likely a blip in their existence.
Give Yourself Some Grace
We all have embarrassing moments. We all have stupid things we wish we hadn’t said.
It’s important to try to put in perspective that we all have these experiences … and to give ourselves the grace that we know we would extend to others if the situation was reversed.