I remember some things from my childhood more vividly than others.
There was the time I got into my first and only fist fight, which ended before either of us landed a punch. My mom, who was at the school for something to do with the PTA, saw it and broke things up. I’ve always been grateful for that intervention.
Then there was the time I started a rap group with some of my schoolyard friends. We would spend our lunchtime and recess penning rhyming words that by anyone’s standards were not much better than a poorly written Dr. Seuss knock-off. We had some fun times, but I can say I am honestly glad the record labels never came calling.
And of course there were the silly childhood jokes. Few things could move you up the social rankings more quickly than being the funny guy with a great, never before heard joke. I was generally not that guy.
I did however learn the skill of retelling a great joke that someone else had shared. It took some finesse to deliver the punch line with the right timing and emphasis. I became quite skilled at it.
Now, while I don’t remember most of the jokes I compiled back then, one or two have stuck with me. One such joke, if you can really call it that, goes like this…
“What’s the difference between a duck?”
….. crickets ….. crickets ….. crickets …..
Yeah, that’s about what I thought when I first heard it. You see, for this so called “joke” to work, you have to have collaborators. This is in fact no joke at all, but rather, a social signal to a group of cohorts that they are to laugh at the expense of a clueless few. If done correctly, you would tell this to a large group, where a number of the group knows that they should laugh when you say it, but not because the “joke” is funny, rather, because it is funny that some of the group don’t know and will feel silly for not laughing. The real fun, supposedly, happens when some of the non-participants start to laugh in order to fit in. They are then called out for being phonies and mocked.
Yep, kids are real peaches, I know. It took me one time trying this “joke” out before I realized I felt like a jerk for doing it and I never wanted to try it again.
This little “joke” has stuck with me throughout my life though. Why? I believe it is because it taught me several lessons.
First, it is never fun to be the one who is clueless and feeling left out. That stinks! Feeling like everyone else is enjoying something that you don’t quite understand can leave you feeling lonely, confused, and frustrated. The reality though is that often times, they don’t really know much more than you. They are just pretending. Don’t stress over what appears to be the latest secret or trend. Concern yourself more with finding clarity about who you are and what you are trying to accomplish, and I promise you will be more happy and fulfilled. Being a man doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers or fully understand everything. You need to know enough to be the best version of you, doing your best to fulfill your responsibilities. That is more than enough!
Second, while some people may find you funny for succeeding at the expense of others, most people realize this is just not cool. I don’t know that any of the so called “bullies” from my childhood days have amounted to much. Perhaps they have, but they lost the attention of any followers long ago. Nobody likes to be made fun of, and nobody really wants to be associated with the guy making fun of people. The point, you will never truly get ahead by taking advantage or putting others down. That’s not what it means to be a man.
The third thing this “joke” taught me is that things are never quite what they seem. Perspective is an under-understood word. We don’t always know the real reasons why things happen, or why people act the way they do. We don’t necessarily know why a choice is placed in front of us, or why despite our best efforts things just don’t seem to be coming together. The fact is, we may never know. If we spend our lives chasing what appears to be, we will most certainly miss what truly is.
As men, it’s hard enough to balance our responsibilities and interests without always worrying about what others think. We have enough on our plate just being our best. Regardless of how things are presented to us, we have the power to choose how we act, react, and progress. Each day we are given the gift of a new set of opportunities. Most we have never faced before. We can approach them with an attitude of confusion and frustration that they weren’t exactly what we had hoped, or we can accept the challenge they present and choose to conquer something new. Our perspective about the unknown is what will determine our outcome.
So, the next time you don’t quite get the joke, don’t worry about it. Find clarity on who you are and who you need to be, and the joke won’t matter much anyway. You don’t need to know the punch line, because you have the power to create your own.
Question: When have you recognized you were part of the joke and regretted it? Leave a comment below.