Saturday, December 16, 2006

If your mind goes blank, turn off the sound

"If your mind goes blank, don't forget to turn off the sound."
- Red Green (aka Canadian comic Steve Smith)

Never has a comedy show had so much wisdom and philosophical truth as Red Green. He "retired" after 16 years to involve himself in other projects. Given the size of his devoted audience, Red could have gone on forever had he wanted to.

Red Green was Everyman. He made lots of mistakes, tried to avoid admitting to them, but suffered for them every time. He was a stumbler, a bumbler, a dufus who just liked to have a bit of fun every day. Never at anyone's expense but his own.

He knew that many people don't think much beyond the cares of their day. So he dug deeper, as comedians do, exposed our idiosyncracies and laughed with us at them. But he always left a suggestion at the end of each skit about how he (and we) could have done things better. He was a reformer, but one who looked up at the grass roots above him.

Imagine, if you will, what your average day would be like if everyone you met who had nothing significant to say, nothing you really wanted to hear, said nothing. In all likelihood, you would accomplish much more than you usually do because you wouldn't be disturbed by people who have their brains turned off, but not the sound with it.

There is nothing wrong with small talk. It helps us to meet strangers we may want to make friends with or who might become work associates. It's a good transition vehicle for brief encounters in elevators, at the water cooler and while you are waiting for the technology to process your credit card payment at the cash register.

Some people believe they have developed small talk to an art form. They are so good at it they use it all the time. It becomes so much a part of who they are that they use small talk as their primary form of communication. They no longer know how to talk about anything of significance.

They have lots of friends, very few close ones. Because to have a close friend you have to care more about your friend than about yourself sometimes and small talkers rarely do. They are talkers, not listeners. If you listen, they like you. If you want to talk, you are competition, so they avoid you. Sometimes real friends need to be listened to.

So, Red, O master of duct tape, enjoy your retirement to other projects. May you be as influential with them as you were in your red and green suspenders and plaid flannel shirt.

We still have many lessons to learn. We need teachers like you.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to help you to tell the difference.
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