A Grey Boy
Grey. As longhaired students, looking across the generation gap, we all thought the working world would be grey. And so, while we still could, we would tie-dye our T-shirts and we’d paint our microbus chartreuse. Books about the dreaded capitalist world, from the short-haired 1950’s, included The Big Company Look, The Organization Man and of course Sloan Wilson’s The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit. Often I would escape into such books, but when I emerged, there I was: A literate nerd feeling grey, surrounded by longhaired self described rebels, all in lockstep with each other, all believing they were the first generation ever to realize they were destined for a grey adulthood.
I first heard the phrase, “Teenage wasteland” around when the British memoir made into a film To Sir with Love spun off a TV series, Room 222. In one of the TV episodes a shorthaired track star protests, “That’s not funny!” He says this when a gleeful longhaired student gives an irreverent class presentation about one of America’s founding fathers. Later, out on the field, the longhaired students can’t take pole-vaulting seriously: they giggle and laugh. Outnumbered, the earnest student fumes. Meanwhile, back in the staff room, concerned teachers note how the track star would have fit in quite well and been quite happy, back in the 1950’s… my favorite decade.
One day, living in a grey wasteland, as I was grimly counting down the weeks until summer, something “magical” appeared in class. Truly. Before the teacher arrived, a student produced some juice cups from home where he could make some paper magically disappear! He had a big smile, and we all smiled too. It was crazy: We may have been too old for such corny magic tricks, of such an outrageous homemade variety, but no, that didn’t matter. Students desperate to be “cool” could have criticized him, but no, —he pulled it off. In our trapped lives he offered us a “bright” and we sure appreciated it. I took note, but I didn’t truly grasp the lesson. Not then.
A Grey Man
Brights have power: That summer I read in some book how the greatest serial hoaxer of the age managed to keep fooling reporters because he offered them a chance to write what reporters call brights: stories that cheer people up. Also, he was careful to announce his stories during the “silly season”: the late summer when congress is not in session, nothing’s happening, and reporters must resort to stories about sightings of the Loch Ness monster. My favorite hoax was two jokers in the 1950’s announcing a new charity to “cloth the animals” so the poor beasts would be decent. But their joke backfired: To their embarrassment, bushels and bushels of cash came through the post office—there were so many Americans eager to give the animals some clothing! Hey, don’t you laugh at people of my favorite decade: Just a few years ago a TV commercial used pixels to camouflage a talking cow’s udder—obviously even today there are people still offended by bare naked animals. (Not like me and you)
I left school and I got a job, a job bereft of tunes. Oh well, at least on carefree weekends I could still listen to songs: I remember one about a beach bum “Taking Care of Business” and someone jeering at a suit-wearing “Bus riiider.” Although back in school I had noticed my first bright, the lesson hadn’t sunk in… for years I just kept my head down to the grey grindstone.
In a world… of long commutes and boring suits;
Plan your work and work your plan, give your surplus to the man;
Break your backs and pay your tax, on Sundays eat your applejacks…” Thank God for unions and Sundays. And say, whatever happened to that nutritionally challenged applejacks cereal?
A Life With Brights
Then one day I lifted up my head and wondered: Just how conformist are my fellows—aging shorthaired non-rebels—in their modern polyester suits? Could they handle me doing a bright? There was only one way to find out…
It helped that I was friendly, not arrogant. I’m ever mindful of Nobel Prize winner Bertrand Russell, born in straight-laced Victorian days, saying that if you are going to be nonconformist then you need to make it clear, even to the stupidest, that you are not criticizing them. Russell managed to be seen, in his words, as “a licensed lunatic.”
…I discovered that even Mr. Big laughs when the water cooler contains a rubber fish. I found out: If I were a respected colleague doing good work then if my heart were in the right place my co-workers would treasure any of my brights. (Even as they groaned)
I think for doing brights it helps to remember a certain role in “group dynamics.” In college, as our instructor covered group roles, he asked us, “Who is the ‘group central comedian?’” and everyone pointed at me! …Oh. I hadn’t thought anybody noticed; I was pleased to be recognized as filling the role: This meant I nobly used humor as a means to help the group accomplish its task. Quite unlike the “group central clown”: He basely uses humor to help the group be distracted and run away from the task. (Like in high school, out on the field) Not me. Better appeal to the group’s best motives, because even as they laugh the group knows full well whether you are helping or hindering.
These days life is good. Yes, even though I am a part of “the establishment” and the “older generation,” a runner of the rat race, a spinner of the hamster wheel… On weekends I often have a dinosaur hanging from my pocket. (On a keychain) At the mall perfect strangers ask where I got my ball cap. (My Neighbor Tottoro) At my weekly “Free Fall” writing group folks smile and ask me to open my vest to show my latest wearable art. (T-shirt) At toastmasters people speak up if I am slow to put out on my table this weeks “object d’art.” (Often something classy from a comic book store)
I won’t offer examples of any workplace brights—your brights have to fit you. I believe if you relax and “set your intention” to be helpful, then, over time, appropriate brights will occur to you. I think if we give them a chance then our co-workers are far less uptight than we had feared.
So go ahead, I’m pulling for you; we’re all in this together… In a grey world, we need all the brights we can get.
A friend of Nessie,
Planning to soon visit my old buddy the Ogopogo,
~Alas, I couldn’t manage time off to see the Ogopogo this year. Oh well, at least it’s nice to be so indispensable at work.
~Here’s a link to Playfair, a competent company I respect… for their caring committed work concerning campuses and corporations, not corny but carefree, convincing co-workers to come together in convivial cooperation.
~Come to think of it, the coldest proof that US congressmen are only legislators, not leaders, is they won’t contact Playfair to come and confront them in their “house divided” craziness.
~Speaking of Washington, from the Ronald Reagan years comes this gem: A corporate trainer was addressing a room of CEO’s and Vice-Presidents. “How many of you voted for Reagan?” All the hands went up. “I see. ‘Hail to the chief.’ Now, how many of you would trust him to run your smallest division or factory?” Not a hand went up.
~In Canada the members of parliament voted themselves obscene salaries because, get this, they “didn’t want to lose anyone to the business world.” … There’s sure a lot of humor in this world, you don’t have to look very far.
~Let’s not be too “shorthaired serious.” A white man attended a conference on substance abuse, where most of the attendees were members of the First Nations. (Indians) They were discussing and hearing some horrible stuff. The white man was confounded when the last speaker on Saturday, a respected native elder, proceeded to get them all laughing with a series of funny stories. So later he asked the elder if he could explain his behavior. Easy: (While perhaps the attendees already had more information than they could usefully digest and act on…) the elder had observed that by the end of the day “people’s packs were getting heavy.” (And they still had to get through Sunday)
Application: At work, when a guest lecturer is intently droning on, then I will proceed to get us laughing if, and only if, I am the last commenter just before we go into a break.