One of my favourite quotes is from Roald Dahl; “A little nonsense, now and then, is relished by the wisest men”. We all know the man from his silly, delightfully whimsical children’s stories but, did you also know that he was a fighter pilot in WWII with a number of confirmed kills? How can such silliness come from someone who has been to such a dark place?
The most recent articles I’ve written have all been a bit navel gazey. Well, that seems to be the theme of my writing these days. Being conscious and aware is tough and forces us the examine deep issues if we wish to continue to remain conscious, which I most certainly do. By conscious, I mean awake, in every form of the word. Survival requires you to have your eyes open and, occasionally, to look at things that you don’t like.
Taking Shit with a Pinch of Salt
Today I wanted to look at one of the lighter aspects of being, that of silliness. Daftness. Nonsense. Jesting. Taking shit with a pinch of salt.
I once knew a guy who was an ex army sniper. This guy was a clown and had me in stitches regularly. I was always aware of a certain element of darkness about him, an intrinsic respect that I felt that required no prior knowledge of him on my part. He held himself straight, with his shoulders back. His handshake was firm and he looked you in the eye when he spoke. He was also incredibly kind but, under all that, I could smell danger coming off him.
One night he invited me over to spend an evening with his family and I ended up having such fun I missed my last bus home. The sofa was perfectly comfortable and I stopped the night. I was awoken to a sound I cannot describe. It was the sound of a grown man having night terrors. Not nightmares, night terrors. I didn’t ask and he didn’t tell.
Then one evening, playing pool, we got hammered. Returning from the bar I saw him in the corner, hands shaking with tears in his eyes. That night he told me the things that he did, shit that makes my toes curl to this day. When I asked him how he deals with it, he said “I did what I did and there’s no changing that. Now I just take life with a pinch of salt, because nothing can be as bad as that”.
Humour vs Horror
Its an interesting idea, and one that stayed with me. How do those that have been to the depths of Hell cope with such things. Usually its with alcohol, drugs and/or casual sex. But those that manage to avoid such destructive escapism sometimes do so with humour. Usually of the dark and uncomfortable variety. That’s the thing with humour, it can often be dark and uncomfortable because it is true. I know when I’m feeling low the best remedy for me is to meet it head on then laugh in its face.
It seems to me that a lot of people are generally taking things far too seriously these days. The age of information has shown us all the vast array of opportunities and life choices we can make, if only we had the time. But we don’t. We have finite time and therefore limited choices. If you want to get good at something then you going to have to sacrifice time doing something else. This is a strong factor in fear of missing out.
A very recent phenomena, FOMO causes jealously and intense anxiety when we see how well other people are doing. Oh just look at her beach body. Man that dude is awesome at nunchuks. God now I feel so shit about my own crappy life.
Only thing is, considering that the mediums that this information is available on (FB, Insta etc) is usually heavily curated, we don’t see the hours and weeks and months of hard work that went into achieving those things. We just see the end result and unfairly compare our daily experience with someone’s heavily filtered photo or 15 sec video where they manage to avoid knocking themselves out with bits of wood. What’s the tonic for this? Laughter. Laughter at the implied need for peacocking and, more importantly, laughter at our own desire to do the same.
It’s important to be able to distinguish when a bit of nonsense is appropriate though. This is where most people fall short. To become good at something you must practise and, occasionally, fail. Telling a joke in a crowded room to have it fall like a lead balloon is excruciatingly embarrassing. I should know, I’ve done it enough times. But here’s the kicker, fail enough times and you begin will begin to succeed. Instead of just blindly opening your mouth whenever something funny pops into your head, you can instead pause a moment, gauge the room, get your timing precise and drop the wit bomb that’ll have people falling over.
We all had that one adult in our childhood, the one who spoke to you like a person, not an inferior. The one who you could clown with and who could get you howling with a look. The one adult who invited you to look at the things that all the other adults tried to hide from you and then made you laugh at those shocking, truthful things. A quote that is attributed to Oscar Wilde goes:
“If you want to tell people the truth, you better make them laugh, otherwise they will kill you”
Not to say you must make people laugh when you tell the truth, but it certainly helps the knowledge stick. This is what happens when that adult showed you those things, you learned. At the same time though, you couldn’t take the piss. Ever. Horseplay and banter was one thing but, when you crossed the line, boy did you know it. These boundaries generated a respect and appreciation for how and when it is appropriate to introduce a bit of levity into the mix.
The thing is, you can only be truly light-hearted and silly when you have the ability to be truly self deprecating. You can only laugh at the world when you can laugh at yourself. You can only laugh at yourself when your sense of self is grounded enough to have solid, healthy boundaries. I invite you to laugh along with me but, willfully cross the line when you know it’s there and there’s going to be trouble.
Often-times, letting someone know they’ve crossed a line doesn’t lead to resentment as some would think. It leads to respect. It leads to a strong character with firm friends who aren’t afraid to speak up, although he opposite may appear to be the case on first consideration.
Each One, Teach One
Making a sad person giggle is one of my favourite things to do. It is very hard, so therefore it must happen effortlessly, otherwise it appears contrived. Like it’s a technique you are using, rather than an expression of your character. In medieval times, the court jester was often the most intelligent person in the room and, because they were seen as fools, they could get away with quite a bit.
It’s a dangerous game though. A daring jester would sometimes stand in the presence of the king, without permission and use the shock it generated to do or say something witty. Get that one wrong and you can guess what happened. It’s like when someone tells you a joke. It’s a great joke, the punchline is good but, they tell it to you without really laughing themselves.
Now imagine your best friend telling you a really lame joke that they find hilarious. If they find it funny enough, they may not even be able to finish it. Doesn’t matter, their mirth is catching and you’ll probably find yourself giggling just because they are. Hilarity is infectious and healing.
Devil May Care
I wouldn’t describe myself as a funny guy, because I’m not. But I find lots of things funny and, because of that, I have a natural ability to infect people with laughter. One of my daily goals is to make someone laugh. Most of the time all it requires is a cheeky grin, a dash of aplomb and a sprinkling of devil may care. Occasionally it’s targeted but that’s rare.
Giving yourself body and soul to the creative forces of whatever happens requires immense discipline, which is counter-intuitive. You need structure before you let go of structure. Know thyself, then forget. You won’t be judged if you make a twat of yourself, I promise. No-one cares. You would spend less time worrying about how much people thought of you if you realised how little they do. Everyone is so busy thinking about what other people think they don’t have any time to make a thought about those other people.
Develop Your Dimples
If you want to be at peace, you have to make your peace with being in constant battle. Life is suffering. It’s something I came to properly realise recently and, I’ll admit, it depressed me for a while. But, as my martial arts coach says;
“I’d rather be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war.”
Develop your skills. Find something you enjoy. Revel in it the way a child does. Then stick your tongue out at the world with a grin, we’re all headed to the same place inevitably, so why worry? I don’t have the answers, I just know what works for me. Go out. Make a fool of yourself, then do it again. Smile genuinely. Throw your head back when you laugh. Make some noise. Develop those dimples and crows feet. A lined face is one that has been lived in. A wrinkled face is one that has tales to tell.
Feeling low? Go be silly and make someone laugh, I guarantee it’ll make you feel better, or your money back.