1) “If you can’t create, you perform; if you cannot perform, you teach.” Those who have no talent to create, perform, or teach, critique those who can. Those not knowledgeable enough to critique in a constructive manner, make it their lifelong goal to crush all of the above. They kill the butterfly, because they cannot fly. They knock it down, smash it into the sidewalk, and twist their foot on it for good measure. Their favorite shows run clips of the errors, mistakes, and bloopers of the accomplished, for the enjoyment of who could never create or perform. When the successful fall, it makes them feel more comfortable in their quiet, sad corner of the world. They never tried to accomplish anything outside their comfort zone, and anyone who does should know they’re subject to scorn and ridicule. Creators know that any time they create, they invite these types to treat them like a piñata, but we move on from our failed or subpar creations with the knowledge that they still have to live with the idea that they can’t create anything worthwhile. They’re stuck in that, and they laugh at those who struggle to achieve flight. They don’t remember how it started, and they don’t know why they enjoy it so much. When they started pointing out the errors creators committed, and ridiculing them for those errors, it just felt right.
2) How many us spend most of our time trying to justify our existence? When an employer hires us to find errors in another employee’s work, we find them. Some errors require notation, constructive criticism, and possible retraining, but most of the errors we find are trivial, and we know it, but finding them justifies our employment.
When someone suggested that I was “brutally honest” I tried to live up to my billing. I enjoyed this characterization so much that I eventually worked my way to “You’ll say anything”. I loved it. Others loved it too, and they wanted to be around me on a “You never know what he is going to say next” basis. I lived by the credo, “It’s not funny, not truly funny, unless someone gets hurt.”
Two consequences of this pursuit soon emerged. People stepped out of their woodwork to get me back. Otherwise, sweet people made it their goal to get savage with me. They capitalized on my every mistake and they searched for my vulnerabilities. I considered myself a victim without reflecting on how I brought this house of cards down around me. I also hurt some peoples’ feelings. Some people seek offense at every corner, but there are others. The others are innocent victims leading otherwise inoffensive lives. They have vulnerabilities. We have vulnerabilities, but the “brutally honest” who “will say anything” don’t have any regard for feelings. We might have been joking when we said something brutal about someone, because no one else would, but how many of those who are brutally honest with us are only joking?
“When you think you’re the toughest kid on the block, someone is going to come along and beat the tar out of you,” my dad said when I told him the story about how one of my best friends beat up one of the toughest guys in school. I told him that my friend was now the talk of the school. In some strange way, I thought my dad might be proud that one of my best friends, someone with whom the two of us dined, was now considered one of the toughest kids in school. He wasn’t proud. “Tell your friend that his worries aren’t over now. They’re just beginning. Kids are going to come out of the woodwork to challenge him now, and your friend will learn that there’s always someone tougher.” When I argued that point a little he added, “There are no Queen’s rules of order when it comes to fighting. There’s always someone nastier, meaner, and dirtier. They might even pull out weaponry. There are no rules of war, and some kids will do whatever it takes to win.”
Due to the fact that I never tried to prove I was the toughest kid in the school, I didn’t think that advice applied to me. It didn’t apply in this way it was provided, but when my good friends started dropping all these characterizations at my feet, I discovered that there’s always someone smarter, funnier, quicker, and meaner and nastier. I also learned that people came out of the woodwork to take me down. They capitalized on my every mistake, and they searched for my vulnerabilities to hit me where it hurt. My fighting friend never learned the lesson my dad thought he would, but I did.
After I learned my lesson, one of the vulnerable teed me up by telling me “Where it hurts.” I didn’t know the guy that well, and he’s telling me where he’s most vulnerable. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought it was a test. It wasn’t. I held my fire, and left comedy gold at that lunch table. I could’ve had a moment at the his expense, and people lived for the moments I created, but I let my people down by letting the moment float by without comment.
3) “Never tell them where it hurts.” We make this mistake all the time. We’re with friends, and we get to talking. Somewhere along the line, we reveal a vulnerability. We also reveal our vulnerabilities to those with whom we feel most comfortable, and we also “get vulnerable to ourselves to potential friends. When they use this information to crack a harmless joke, we get defensive.
“Ah, come on, I was just joking,” Marvin says. “Don’t be so sensitive.”
“Okay, but I just told you that I am very sensitive about that.”
Marvin is not a bad guy. He’s not overly insensitive or mean, and we did not make a mistake when we chose to befriend him. Marvin is simply a victim of the “don’t think pink” paradox. The paradox suggests that the moment after we say, “don’t think pink”, pink will be the only thing on the mind of everyone we warn.
Marvin probably didn’t even know why he cracked that joke, but when we revealed our sensitivity to him, he saw pink. He never noticed how large and glaring our flaw was, until we told him about it. Every time he sees us now, he sees pink, and we’re all pink on the inside.
If you want to debate how prevalent this predilection is, try telling someone how sensitive you are about the size and shape of our left eyetooth? If you have no such sensitivities, tell a trusted friend that you are extremely sensitive about it. They might not say anything about immediately, but they will eventually crack a harmless joke about it. They will eventually see pink. Should we think less of them in the aftermath, or should we view it as a challenge similar to the don’t think pink challenge, or the challenge we experience when we have a sore in our mouth. We know touching the sore with our tongue will only irritate it and make it worse, but we’re obsessed with it. When we see all of this for what it truly is, it shouldn’t concern us as much as how often we forget to cover our wounds when we meet new people. Never tell them where it hurts.
4) “How many times do I have to forget these lessons before I finally learn them?” we might ask ourselves the next time someone exploits our weaknesses. “If someone taught me such principles, I might not make them so often.” Were our parents this incompetent? Are we incompetent parents? How do we prepare our kids? Should we? Do they have to learn such lessons on their own, or can I prepare them better to help them avoid the lessons I keep forgetting?
“I gave birth to you, what more do you want?” was the philosophical answer provided by the Rosanne Barr School of Parenting. It was a line she delivered on her hit show Rosanne. It was a joke. We don’t know if she believed it or not, or if it was just something she said to be funny. Students of comedy tell us that clever humor can hit the laugh-or-meter, but if the purveyor of comedy wants to hit that rarefied air of hilarious, the joke needs an element of truth that the audience can relate to their life. It was a joke, but it obviously resonated with some of us.
When our kid was born, it was the most glorious moment in our lives. The kid was life, and no matter how anonymously some of us live, this kid will provide proof that we were here. Then it happened. Parenting got all hard and stuff. The kid didn’t appreciate us as much as they should have. The kid talked back, the kid wanted things they couldn’t have, and we weren’t always right. A line like, “I gave birth to you, what more do you want?” let us off the hook. We did our job. It’s their job now to do something with it.
“If you have to ask,” Adam Carolla once said on his podcast, “then you’re probably doing it right.” If you feel the need to call into a show or read a book for answers, and ask other parents for advice, you’re probably what they call a good parent, because it shows you’re trying. We’ve all heard the phrase parenthood is the hardest job in the world, and we often put parents on pedestals, but parents aren’t good people just because they become parents. Some parents know this, and they struggle to find the best way to raise their child. “The very idea that you just called into a national call-in show to ask that question probably means you’re a good parent,” Carolla added, “because it shows that you care.” Carolla then went onto answer the caller’s question for the benefit of all of the “I gave birth to you, what more do you want?” parents who might be listening in.