The naked ape revisited: take it easy
I have always liked irreverence. In fact I may have liked it so much that as well as a lack of ability, my inability to be reverent to the right people probably contributed to me not conquering the universe.
It goes without saying that I love Monty Python and others of their ilk, 'Say No More!' The furore following the release of the Life of Brian was almost as much fun as the movie, as the very precious religious establishment got their knickers in a right twist.
Known for his irreverence, Mark Twain once said that, 'I cannot call to mind a single instance where I have ever been irreverent, except toward the things which were sacred to other people.' This is the heart of irreverence, the ability to challenge holy cows, strongly held opinions that are often institutionalized without question.
Comedians are often brilliant at doing this and people like Carl Baron and Billy Connelly come to mind with their ability to make us laugh at ourselves.
I've come to think that being irreverent might be therapeutic. Certainly being able to raise a giggle about dumb things we have done, the gaffs we have made seems a much better option than dwelling on them and getting depressed the more we obsess about mistakes made. And the same applies to the things that others do too, and choose not to get upset or take things too seriously.
I sit on a couple of boards and, like the others around the table, am a volunteer. It amazes me how serious we can become in our discussions and endeavors when in fact we could chill out a bit, have a bit of fun or at least try and enjoy what we are doing. I seem to remember work was a lot like that too and don't miss the self-importance of it at all.
A friend of mine used to be quite senior in an organization and had to attend day-long meetings. Imagine, sitting in a meeting all day: could initiate some nasty forms of psychosis I would think. Anyhow, my irreverent friend started taking a tapestry to the meetings to keep himself awake. Needless to say this thoroughly needled those with control freak tendencies around the huge, and very expensive, boardroom table: a symbol of the absurd if ever there was one. He told me that it was actually very effective because when he put his tapestry down everyone looked at him and he was able to speak with the full attention of those in the room. No need to catch the chairperson's eye if you have a tapestry in front of you. An interesting metaphor perhaps.
We can take even fun seriously. I've seen people get awfully upset at their performance on the golf course or become very depressed when the fish don't bite. I noticed during the mandatory Christmas board and card games that, for some, winning is everything - even if it means beating a six-year-old. I met a man once who told me that he would never let his young son beat him at pool, because how else would he get better at the game. I think he had the wrong end of the cue quite frankly.
I think it's useful sometimes to take a step back and recognize just how flawed and frail we are as a species. We're not half as smart as we think we are and our bodies really are very vulnerable and not nearly as beautiful as we like to think. When I think about this it makes it easier to laugh at my pretentiousness, my inflated ego. And it makes it easier to be kind to others because they too are just as flawed. Getting frustrated or anxious just takes so much energy. I'm for anything that makes this journey just a little bit easier.
Dr Stewart Hase is an Adjunct Fellow with Southern Cross University and a consultant psychologist. You can visit his blog at stewarthase.blogspot.com.