Fear of Looking Foolish

I had a heartbreaking experience on the TTC a week ago. I’ve been trying to save this as an intro for our Fear and Failure Event but it’s eating me up inside.

I was on the subway around 8pm. There were two Indian women sitting to my right – maybe mother and daughter. There was an older white gentleman sitting across from them, and a young black couple sitting to his right. There was a man in his thirties, possibly Spanish, well dressed with ear phones and a wool coat and he was standing in the middle of our section, coughing, He walked towards the older white man and made a gesture, like he was pumping his chest, requesting the old man give him the Heimlich maneuver. I felt this panic inside and I sat up in my seat, positioned to rise, but frozen. I noticed the young black man to my left do the same. The older white man just stared at him and then got up and walked away. It felt like forever, but it was maybe 30 seconds when finally a woman from a section behind us ran over. By this time the man had coughed a few times and could breath. She was asking him if he was ok. He said, “yes, just embarrassed”. Then he got off and the woman returned to her seat. I was flooded with tears of shame. I literally couldn’t breath because the pain was too much. This is my whole mission in life – human connection. Connecting with people who are struggling with addiction or poverty or mental illness because human beings deserve attention and respect no matter what. And yet, when called to actually connect with someone and help, I was incapable. I thought for awhile about what had happened and why, and realized it was fear. In that very moment I had a bunch of thoughts running through my head – is he fooling around? Are his friends sitting a bit away and he’s playing the fool to amuse them? Is this a scam? Is he a bit unstable? I hadn’t fully processed what was happening before it was over. It was simply a fear of looking foolish. I mean, imagine you run over and give someone the Heimlich maneuver, and it’s a joke and everyone is laughing at you?

When I finally composed myself, I walked over to the woman who had helped. “I really admire you for helping out. I can’t believe we all sat there, doing nothing, how horrible” I said. She said, ‘thanks, you kinda have to help”. “Yes” I said, “but we didn’t. And you always wonder in these situations when you see them or hear about them, WHY did no one do anything, and the answer is fear. Fear of looking foolish”. The woman smiled sympathetically and I returned to my seat.

This has been a really humbling experience, and praying that next time I can do better.