Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Aug 2, 1947
Was My Face Red
I see that a doctor has been saying that “the large sale of books on the inferiority complex, blushing and shyness, shows the need for educating people in psychiatry.”
The inferiority complex was unknown, at least under that name, when I was a boy; but I certainly passed through a fiery furnace of blushing and shyness. Two things that caused me constant misery were my inability to prevent myself from blushing when meeting a school-girl goddess in the street and the shape of my nose.
How eagerly I used to read advertisements of cures for blushing and cures for misshapen noses and wish that I had the courage to write for them! But I was too shy and self-conscious to give myself away about such things even in a letter to a stranger.
I always pictured someone—probably a girl—opening my letter and having a hearty laugh with a friend over my rosebud cheeks or my enormous nose that could be improved in shape—so I gathered—only if I wore some kind of instrument on it during the hours of sleep.
Blushers suffer acutely from being laughed at. No one but a blusher can understand the agonies I used to go through when I was forced to take part in one of those hat trimming competitions, which were for a time so-called attraction at church bazaars.
Here a number of young males seated on a platform were provided with women’s hats, needles and thread, and trimming stuff, and there was a race to see who could get his hat trimmed first.
To me it was torture enough to sit there, conspicuously a fool, unable even to thread my needle, in the presence of a laughing multitude, but what made it worse was to sit beside a comedian, an expert with his needle who, after putting it through the straw, would draw it with its long trail of thread behind it up in the direction of my face and say “Sorry” as I jerked my head away so as not to have my eye put out.
This was received with roars of laughter by all but me.
There are sadists, however, who enjoy seeing people blush. I used sometimes to walk to school with a boy who had a theory that you could make anybody blush if, as he approached you in the street, you stared at his boots.
“Watch this fellow,” he would say as a stranger drew nearer. “Let’s stare at his boots and see him blushing.”
And as the stranger went by, as red as a turkey-cock, a vulgar laugh of satisfaction must have made him doubly certain that all was not well with his feet.
It is hard to say whether blushing and shyness are due to modesty or to vanity. They are certainly often the result of feeling that one is more conspicuous than one really is.
Why, when I was a small boy sitting in the gallery of the threatre, and a pretty musical comedy actress wagged her finger at the gallery at large as she sang some such line as: “Oh, you naughty boy!” or “It’s you, you, you” I used to feel that her finger pointed so obviously at me that all the house must have noticed it, and blush to the ears.
I did not, of course, imagine that she had seen me and picked me out deliberately, but felt that she had unwittingly called attention on me. This, I believe, is a fairly common illusion in the thatre and is to some a cause of rapture, to others a cause of acute embarrassment.
That shyness is a form of conceit never occurred to me till one evening at a banquet, when I was unexpectedly called on for a speech and, after stumbling through a few unintelligible words and an inaudible explanation that I was not a speaker, sat down. I was immediately attacked by a fellow country-man who said to me: “Do you know what’s the matter with you? Egotism. Anybody can make a speech, if he tries, but you’re too egotistic to take the trouble. That’s all it is. You’re just a—egotist.”
Yes, that may be the explanation of the whole thing, of my longing for a comelier nose, of my misery when sitting on a platform, of my horror of being made a butt at hat-trimming competition, of my reddening when a goddess smiled at me from the top of a tram, of the woe I felt on the few occasions when I had to walk alone up the centre of a hall to receive a school prize.
If this is so, the cure for blushing and shyness is simple enough. All you have to do is to get rid of egotism, of which self-consciousness is a manifestation.
Let not even the incurable blushers be downhearted however. Has not a fine poet written:
“The man who blushes is not quite a brute.”
—a fine tribute to all of us.
If he had written in the same flattering spirit of the man with the misshapen nose he would be one of my favorite poets.