Lilian Nattel's Journal

On Embarrassment

photo by Martin von Castell

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Being bipedal animals with consciousness, humans have this propensity for remembering and obsessing, but other animals get embarrassed, too. I had a housemate, once, with a mean cat. At the start of every summer, she’d have her cat shaved so he wouldn’t overheat. I always had to watch out for Rocky, her cat. He had a habit of leaping up to bite my legs. He also used to torment my cat, growling and swatting with his claws. My cat was large, fat, gentle and shy. He was no match for Rocky, except at the start of summer. When Rocky was shaved, he looked like a feline poodle. He was clearly conscious of his suddenly scrawny appearance and slunk around close to the floor when he wasn’t hiding. Once his fur grew back, he returned to unabashed stalking and leaping and biting and swiping with his claws. I’m guessing the summer shame was forgotten, and that’s how humans differ. I don’t know about apes—our close relatives can remember prior relationships, so maybe they, too, ruminate and obsess and privately blush over past embarrassments and shames. Maybe we need to be more like Rocky, and when the fur grows back, boldly leap and swipe and forget the shame of our temporary nakedness.

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