When I bring up the subject of humor, what is the first thing that pops into your head?
A comedy show?
The fact that the British need a second ‘u’ in the word?
Whatever it may be, I just wanted to clear something up: humor (or humour) is not the same thing as jokes, comedy or even funny, so what is it?
Humo(u)r is an internal process that solves the tension of two competing thoughts by connecting them in new and unexpected ways.
Jokes are one way to connect these competing thoughts. Explained simply: all jokes are a form of humor, but not all humor is jokes.
Funny: Connecting competing thoughts may produce some unexpected results, which can lead to laughter, but the outcome of using humor need not always be funny.
Sense of humor: If you have a good sense of humor, it means you’re open to the idea of multiple unique ways of these competing thoughts. For example, if you laugh when someone teases you about losing your hair, you’re both holding onto your elevated sense of self-importance while being open to someone else’s observations. You can see the connection, and you’re willing to not hold so tightly to preconceived notions.
Comedy: The practice, science, and art of connecting two unlike thoughts — the setup to the punchline — until it generates laughter from an audience through repeated trial, error, and revision. Comedy can certainly include jokes, though they’re not always necessary, but a comedian must have a sense of humor. If a comic fails to work out the connections between his or her incongruous thoughts, there’s no way an audience will make those connections either, and everyone will be sitting in silence, wondering why this weird person is talking at them.
What if everything — and I mean everything — that could go wrong did go wrong? When rolling out a new policy, adapting to new rules and regulations, or getting used to a new executive, there is bound to be just a little bit of fear. As we limp into 2021 after a 2020 that nobody — except for maybe a tiny bat in China who dreamed of world domination — saw coming, there’s going to be some battle-weary soldiers in the office, so when you announce another change, resistance will inevitably kick in.
Don’t resist the resistance unless you want more resistance. Instead, embrace it.
In 2014, online retailer Zappos decided to shift their management model to a holacracy, a management model where the traditional functions of managers are eliminated and job titles are replaced by roles that individuals acquire. The traditional pyramid of hierarchy is replaced by, according to Business Insider:
A series of “circles” dedicated to specific functions like marketing and customer relations.
It’s centered around self-management and requires employees to have high levels of engagement, meaning, and organizational buy-in to work. Say what you will about the management model, what I’m more interested in is how the employees and executives at Zappos, as well as outside experts, responded to such a seismic shift.
How did the employees respond?
When former CEO Tony Hsieh sent out a memo asking for full employee commitment to the new system, 18% of the company chose to take their severance packages. Yikes.
How did outside experts respond?
In the never-ending quest to prove that new ideas don’t work, publications like HBR, Inc, and Business Insider were quick to draw attention to the mass exodus from Zappos.
How did Zappos executives respond?
They made a video spoofing the idea of a holacracy. You read that right: Hseih starred in an employee-produced video where he falls asleep on the couch, and wakes up in a dream where the company has fallen into the chaos of anarchy, like the press predicted:
This video was a fun, outside-of-the-box way of communicating to the remaining employees that even if the new management style didn’t work, it could always be worse. Though Zappos has gradually transitioned away from holacracy, the switch didn’t involve panic or a coup like the video portrays, and the company has maintained a positive, creative workplace culture that consistently shows up on best-places-to-work lists.
So what was the point of the video?
It served three purposes:
It allowed for employees to work together in a creative setting, side-by-side with the CEO and one another, on a fun project they could look back on, be proud of, and share with family and friends that “My job and my boss are pretty cool.” Be honest: would your boss take part in a video spoofing his own decisions?
It gave employees a shot of perspective. When faced head-on with change, humans have a bad habit of gravitating to worst-case scenario situations. One way to ease this stress is to take that worst-case scenario and manifest it in the form of a fun project like this that delivers the subconscious message, “Relax — that worst-case scenario is not only implausible, it’s kind of silly.” Using humor in this way is a great tool for level-setting perspectives, so instead of stress and fear, people begin asking the question, “What can we do next?”
It delivered a message to outsiders: this is a fun and engaging place to work. Imagine you’re looking for a job and you’re deciding between the “business-as-usual” company and the “we don’t take ourselves seriously” company. Though the former is consistent and you’ll feel safe and secure, the latter is one of the biggest online retailers in the world because it takes risks, has fun, and is willing to take an occasional L. Would you rather work at a company that takes work seriously, takes its customers seriously, and takes itself seriously, or a company that takes its work and customers seriously, but doesn’t take itself seriously.
If you’re a leader, making a short video to poke fun at your own ideas is one way to help your team want to get on board with new ideas, instead of making them feel like they have to get on board. Added bonus: the video that Zappos made cost zero dollars and was put together exclusively by team members. Sure, the editing, sound, and writing isn’t award-worthy, but it’s okay because the people who made it aren’t professionals. Because of the fundamental shift of workplaces we experienced in 2020, we need to find new ways to generate buy-in from our teams, and making a video where you communicate that “Yeah, this could go wrong, but with you by my side, we can make this thing work… and if it doesn’t, then at least it won’t be as bad as what happens in this video,” is just one way of many to do it.
Note: I wrote this in response to the loss of a visionary risk taker and leader whose legacy will live on in all those he inspired through working for him, reading his book, watching his interviews, and so on. If more leaders modeled their behaviors after Tony Hsieh, we’d fundamentally change the meaning of what it means to “work:”
“I think when people say they dread going into work on Monday morning, it’s because they know they are leaving a piece of themselves at home. Why not see what happens when you challenge your employees to bring all of their talents to their job and reward them not for doing it just like everyone else, but for pushing the envelope, being adventurous, creative, and open-minded, and trying new things?” — Tony Hsieh
In my years of preaching the importance of humor in the workplace, I’ve been met with resistance because just as so much can go right, so much can go wrong. The goal of using humor is to uplift, add value, break the tension, release stress, and bring people together, but if it isn’t done right, humor can have the opposite effect. Here are three outcomes of using humor in the workplace that you want to avoid:
If you’re going through the loss of a loved one or you’ve been working hard all day and need respite, humor provides a welcome distraction and a jolt of perspective. If you can feel the tension rising between people, sometimes a well-timed one-liner or acknowledgement of incongruity can release that tension instantly. Humor is a fantastic tool when the goal is added perspective or tension release. If you’re using humor as a distraction or if you’re doing it all. the. time… you may be distracting yourself from the bigger picture. Humor is a means to an end, not the end itself, so if you’re noticing an incongruity — say there’s a blatant disregard for diversity — cracking a joke about it and not doing anything can be just as toxic as being openly bigoted. Note the problem, laugh about the fact that it’s a problem and your current actions aren’t solving it, then do something about it by trying something new.
Incorporating humor as a cornerstone of your culture may not connect with all audiences — and that’s okay. When people would rather work in serious mode, the last thing you want to do is form a roving band of jesters poking fun at those who won’t join in, or shutting off those who aren’t as funny. People are socially awkward, so if someone who was nervous about contributing humor fears being laughed at instead of laughed with, he or she will feel like an outsider. Even if their quip isn’t funny, laugh politely and avoid the desire to talk about that person once they’re out of earshot. Start from a place of appreciation, because even if that other person without a funny bone in their body feels welcome, your inclusivity will lead to them eventually surprising you with a perspective that has everyone rolling.
If humor is at the expense of someone, or it appears as an exclusive club to your less-funny employees, the benefits of it are nullified. Though witty takedowns and scathing comebacks are commonplace in comedy clubs, “comedian owns heckler” videos, and Comedy Central Roasts, chances are good your employees aren’t professional comedians, so replicating this style of humor is often toxic at work.
Humor at work is meant to be a means-to-an-end, inclusive, unifying, and uplifting. If the results are anything other than these three things, it’s time to course correct.
What an election cycle! It had it all: drama, comedy, and more information about every county in every swing state that any one human being can retain. Did CNN’s John King and MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki just have that overwhelming amount of knowledge swimming in their brains? Also, did either of them have time for bathroom breaks? Were they hooked up to catheters? Are they even human?
While these were the questions I had on election night between sips of double IPAs, there is a much bigger question that must be answered, regardless who won the presidency: what now?
If you’re anything like me, you probably want to talk about something — anything else, but I’m sure you’ve probably noticed there is much more work that needs to be done. The message we keep getting from politicians and media alike is that “we’re more divided than ever,” but because of the access to social media, we’re more connected than ever, so this is a bizarre paradox in which we find ourselves.
Just because we are connected doesn’t mean we have connected, and that — more than anything — must be first on our to-do list. No matter who won the election, I was going to write this particular blog post because, red or blue, the core problems that we’re facing are colorblind.
There are three things we must do as a nation in order to come together and come up with solutions that will help us thrive in the 21st century:
As a comedian, one of the first things I do once onstage is to make a connection with the audience. If I don’t connect and can’t get them to see from my P.O.V., my material isn’t going to land quite as hard. Connecting is about finding common ground, a common goal, or a common interest. Scan through any political “discussion” on social media — it’s two people trying to get their point of view across without anyone learning anything. When we go into a conversation with the goal of talking, there is no room for communication, as the key to communicating effectively is listening. This is a fundamental problem that transcends party lines, and it has ingrained itself to the point where too many people can’t even fathom why other people have differing perspectives. I’m guilty of it too. The course of action is to find common ground and/or agree on a common goal. What do all people, no matter their race, socioeconomic status, or ideology want? According to positive psychologist Martin Seligman, there are 5 pieces of the human well-being puzzle: positive emotion, engagement, meaning, accomplishment, and positive social relationships.
We all want these things, but we disagree on what it takes to ensure that each one of these needs are met, so instead of insisting on your rightness, ask open-ended questions. Find out their passions, stresses, pains, desires, and needs are. If we aren’t starting from common ground, it’ll be difficult — if not impossible — to reach a common goal.
At the very least, we all want to live in a better world, but we each have a different vision of how exactly we get there. The way our political system is set up creates a diametric opposition, so that those who think differently are wrong. Throughout the entirety of the election, Joe Biden’s message has been a consistent theme of unity, however, there are plenty of Democrats who refuse to even consider working to connect with Trump supporters.
This refusal to connect or work together is why we’re in this situation to begin with!
Watch the presidential debates — they’re about who “wins” — but imagine if they were centered around who works together the best… it would change our political dynamic. The basic level of human collaboration is “yes, and.” That is, taking a problem, and presenting ideas in a way where the next idea adds to the previous idea, rather than proving why it won’t work, taking credit for the idea, or one-upping it. Working together like this will not only bridge the gap between ideologies, it has the power to bridge the gap between problems and solutions, and it focuses the conversation on ideas instead of problems. Think about how powerful it would be if, instead of dismantling the Affordable Care Act, we improved upon it. Do you work for a leader who, from your perspective, has awful ideas? What if, instead of resisting those ideas, you got to work to improve upon them? Whether the goal is to make the world or your workplace better, undercutting the other person or idea is energy that can be spent actually doing the third thing…
What set America apart from the rest of the world during the Industrial Revolution was the fact that we innovated and created so many new inventions and systems. Over the past 60 years, America went from being the world’s greatest creator to the world’s biggest consumer. Most Americans agree: if everyone who could work in the United States had a job, that’d be great. However, it’s 2020, and many of the jobs that brought the United States to the world stage in terms of innovation are now being done by robots and A.I. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but many of those computers and robots do those formerly human jobs way better and way faster than people. That’s why it’s vital that people of all ideologies connect and collaborate on creating new jobs for this new world, otherwise more and more jobs will disappear and we’ll be left with a bunch of angry, hungry, unemployed people feeling betrayed by the system. Demanding more jobs in manufacturing and fossil fuels would’ve been like demanding more blacksmiths and carriage manufacturers after guns and cars became commonplace. It’s urgent that we put our heads together and see what kinds of new jobs we can create in new, burgeoning industries — like creating a robot to break down the minute-by-minute, county-by-county election results so John King and Steve Kornacki can use the restroom in November of 2024.
Our common goal is to create a marketplace that works for everyone. Though I may joke about what separates us, I do it to point out how distracted we are by it. Our differences are a positive tool we can use to our advantage. Once we connect and see how much we really have in common, we can collaborate on creating a world worth living in. Reach out to someone who believes differently than you and tell them you’re grateful you have them in your life, then start asking questions to learn about them. All it takes is an open mind and a conversation, but if we wait for others to have the open mind first, we may be waiting forever.
This election doesn’t matter. There, I said it. Not only does this election not matter, this pandemic doesn’t matter, this blog post doesn’t matter, your ideas don’t matter, your opinions don’t matter, and you don’t matter either. But neither do I.
You are matter, but that doesn’t even matter.
“But David, you’re supposed to be a motivational speaker. You always talk about uplifting other people, and this isn’t uplifting.”
Well stick around, idiot, because you’re about to get uplifted.
When everything feels so important and it feels like the bad thing that’s happening is the worst possible thing that could ever happen in the history of the universe, remember: you’re on a rock hurtling through that universe, and that universe is expanding infinitely… but no one’s talking about that this election.
Where’s that question in the debates? Neither Biden nor Trump acknowledged the inevitable supernova of our Earth’s sun, black holes, or the fact that a particularly violent solar storm could wipe out electricity across the planet, the only planet (that we know of) that supports life. When the sun goes supernova, Earth will be vaporized like it never existed in the first place, in the meantime, sure, let’s argue about healthcare.
Everyone should have access.
Controversial? It shouldn’t be, but when money, a manmade construct, comes into play, the argument becomes not about doing what’s right, it turns into “Who’s going to pay for it?”
Making cities and technology green so that everyone can enjoy the fresh air and water that was a package deal with this planet? “We can’t afford it.”
Overhaul education so that human beings are engaged by learning, creating, and sharing new ideas to innovate new technologies that allow us to stop doing demotivating jobs and start engaging our brains with new occupations? “But we’ve never done it that way before.”
We’re on a rock hurtling through space.
Mathematically, the fact that we even exist is an anomaly, so the fact that we’re arguing about how certain things aren’t possible is laughable. Our schools educate the concepts of infinite possibility out of us at a young age, confining our imaginations to a system filled with manmade limits that is centuries old… in the middle of a universe that’s expanding infinitely. Yet, nobody has even brought up the education overhaul we so desperately need. I would argue that it’s the most pressing issue because it could literally solve all of our problems. For example:
Income inequality: teach students the concepts of creating wealth through altruism
Inequities (gender, racial, religious, socioeconomic, and cognitive): teach students the concepts of empathy, acceptance, and communication
Climate change: teach students the concepts of relevant ecology, innovation, and collaboration
That’s just the tip of the melting iceberg.
You know what doesn’t care about money? The sun. The only time we talk about the sun is when the president looks directly into it, but the worst day in the history of our planet pales in comparison to the day the sun explodes.
I know this particular blog post is pretty meta, and I’m bringing up some pretty out-there concepts, but somebody’s got to. I mean, for God’s sake, we’re arguing about wearing masks in the middle of a pandemic. Really? That’s the hill you want to die on? Because it’s a hill that’s hurtling through space in an infinitely expanding universe.
Infinity isn’t a concept that our simple, human brains can understand, I mean, our symbol for infinity is an eight that fell over. Think of it from the perspective of an ant. If you try to explain the human world to a single ant, it would probably just carry a grain of sand somewhere else because that’s what it knows. Compared to the complexities of the universe, your brain ain’t shit, but compared to that of an ant, it’s a Milky Way of molecules. Unlike ants, humans can look at where we are, learn from where we came, and plan for what’s to come. Looking back, humans have been arguing about things that don’t matter — politics, profits, and power, to name a few — instead of innovating to create things that do. If Earth were to be destroyed by a celestial body tomorrow, religion, economies, and political ideologies would be destroyed along with it, and the universe would remain unmoved by the devices of human imagination. Arguments over these imagined orders have driven some innovation, sure, but they’ve also created a stasis that challenges those who challenge said stasis instead of considering the validity of their ideas.
In the scheme of the universe, the entire planet of Earth is a single electron on a single atom on a single grain of sand on a single nude beach. However, our individual problems, concerns, and ideas feel like the most important thing in our lives. The point of this particular blog post is to remind you that even though the election looms large, in the scheme of the universe, the ripple it causes is like a single ripple of water in the ocean — it’s meaningless… unless the conversation shifts to how we can come together to strive for infinite growth by reaching for our infinite potential.
We need to give people the tools they need to explore new ways of reaching the infinite possibilities the universe has in store, but if what you’re doing isn’t learning, growing, or expanding infinitely every day, make the shift by asking the questions:
How did I get better today? What did I learn?
How did I help others get better today? What did I learn?
How can I apply these things tomorrow?
These are just small ways to make infinity relevant to you.
Sometimes we all just need a reminder that WE’RE ON A ROCK HURTLING THROUGH SPACE! AND SPACE IS EXPANDING INFINITELY!
We gotta figure out ourselves, then we gotta figure out this rock, and then we gotta figure out space, because in front of us is infinite possibility, but like explaining capitalism to an ant, we can’t quite comprehend it… yet.
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
If you were looking for a definitive yes or no like the answer to “Did you take out the trash?” you’re in for a rude awakening. Since the news broke on Thursday that the president contracted COVID, I have seen so many social media posts, articles, and videos articulating why the president getting COVID is funny, but also why it’s not funny.
They’re both right.
And both wrong.
Human beings live our lives in search of certainty, but we live in a nuanced world where certainty is uncertain, and comedy explores that nuance. If you’re sure Donald Trump getting COVID is or is not funny, then I’m facing an uphill battle in convincing you otherwise. I have a podcast called You Can’t Laugh At That, and we interview comedians to explore why certain topics are funny, so I thought I’d do that here, starting with why it’s not funny.
Getting COVID isn’t funny
Coming from firsthand experience, COVID-19 sucks and I don’t wish for anyone to get it, but the thing itself isn’t usually what’s funny — it’s everything around the periphery. A door itself isn’t funny objectively, but if you have a story tied to the door about how someone pinched their fingers, or how the door was invented, or if there’s a quote about doors, etc., then there are any number of ways to find the humor in something so banal. That’s the nuance I want to share with you here. So no, the fact that the president has COVID is not funny, but there is so much more that is.
HOW he got COVID IS funny
Human beings are flawed creatures striving to be perfect in an imperfect world, and Donald Trump is a human being who won’t admit that he’s not perfect. We all know someone like this, and when they very clearly mess up, it’s extra funny. If you don’t know someone like this, it’s you. It’s okay to make mistakes, and when you, a world leader who serves as an example to so many, refuse to take the simple precautions of maintaining social distance and wearing a mask in public — two strategies proven to limit the spread of COVID (just ask Japan) — and you catch it? That’s funny. Not only that, but when you host a non-distanced gathering where the majority of people aren’t wearing masks, that’s even funnier. When I contracted it, I was extra cautious, quarantining with only my girlfriend and roommate. My roommate, on the other hand, decided he needed to get laid, so he went to a party, and two days later had a splitting headache. Two days after that, I had a splitting headache, and the rest is history. What’s funny about that? Dude didn’t even get laid.
The irony of him getting COVID IS funny
Irony is one of the most powerful forms of humor when the goal is to make a point, and the fact that he joked about Joe Biden wearing a mask in public two days before contracting COVID is the ultimate hubris. If you refuse to lock your front door, you brag about the fact that you don’t lock your front door, you post on social media about not having to lock your front door, you make fun of people who do lock their front doors, and someone steals your TV, that’s funny to everyone but you. Sure, chances are high someone isn’t going to try and come into your house, but when someone does and you’ve been bragging about not locking your door for over six months, it’s hard for everyone else not to laugh and say “Told ya so.”
What he did once he got COVID IS funny
If you know you’re HIV-positive and you have unprotected sex with someone without disclosing it, in most states, you can be charged with a felony. Following his positive diagnosis, the president engaged intimately with donors at his golf club in New Jersey, endangering people completely unaware of his condition. In comedy, much of the humor comes from the audience knowing something the characters don’t, one character knowing something the rest of the characters don’t, or most of the characters knowing something one character doesn’t. This is a textbook example of this tool at work. Another tool used by comedy writers is forcing characters into situations they can’t get out of, and President Trump forced his Secret Service into an SUV with him, so he could wave at his supporters. Now, these agents are at high risk of having the virus, which isn’t funny in itself, but the circumstances through which they were exposed to it — a very Michael Scott-like demand of to be paraded around — is cringe-funny. It’s like we’re all living on the set of a sitcom.
What WE did once he got COVID is funny
I took time out of my day to write this because I felt too many people were missing the point when discussing whether we should be laughing or not. That’s funny. If laughing helps you cope through the release of endorphins, then who am I to tell you to stop? If you’re laughing out of spite, I feel for you, because this sort of laughter doesn’t provide any of the benefits of endorphins, and can in fact make you feel more stressed. If you hate the idea of someone laughing to feel better, that’s like deriding someone for crying at a funeral. If you hate the idea of someone laughing at someone else’s misery, let them laugh — they have to live with the stress of spite.
Through all of this, remember to be kind — it’s one of the most basic and most rewarding human behaviors. Though the hubris is evident in this situation (and I’ll enjoy the humor in that), I don’t wish harm to befall anyone. Let this whole situation be a lesson: whether you think it’s funny or not doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you put other people’s well-being first by wearing a mask and maintaining social distance. If you won’t do that, then don’t be upset when people say “Told ya so,” because humor can come from any situation, especially one resulting from our own choices.
If you were to go through my Twitter and Facebook feeds from ten years ago, not only would you notice how terrible my joke-writing was:
“If ranch dressing is made in a home with more than 1 floor, does that automatically make it house dressing?”
“Was walking by #Fraternity Row today and saw Kappa Kappa Kappa wasn’t one of them. Baffling.” — Why did I hashtag fraternity?
“Okay, a grim reaper costume wasn’t the best costume idea for our weekly visit to grandpa in hospice.” — I actually tagged Jimmy Fallon in this one, so I must’ve thought, “Yeah, this is the tweet that makes me famous.”
You’d also notice that I harbored completely different opinions about the world than I’ve shared recently on social media:
“Just saw a girl on campus wearing leather pants. the only time leather pants look good is never. No matter who u are,” — I emphatically retract this statement. Especially using “u” instead of the actual word.
“I LOVE carpet! Makes floors so much more tolerable.” — I live in a house that’s 90% hardwood floors and I LOVE it. It’s so much better for my tap dancing career.
“Mitt Romney keeps #poking me on Facebook. He’s got my #vote.” — I absolutely voted for Mitt in 2012, and it wasn’t because of all of the poking. At the time I was a staunch Republican, and there was nothing you could say to convince me otherwise.
Since then, I’ve gone back and deleted insensitive tweets — not to avoid one of my 225 raving fans seeing it and “cancelling” me, but because I’ve grown as a person and I actually care about people, so I’d rather not hurt anyone. Back then, I only cared about trying to be funny. I thought crossing the line when it came to jokes was the secret to funny, and if you were hurt, then you were being too sensitive. As “cancel culture” became more and more prevalent, I continued getting offended at other people’s offense until I came to the realization that if I want to make people feel good, I probably shouldn’t be writing jokes to offend them. Not only that, but I should probably learn to write better jokes.
Instead of saying, “I’m right, fuck off,” I opened myself up to new opinions, was able to see a bigger picture, and I’m now a much better comedy writer — not to mention I’m way happier because of it.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of people who don’t see conflicting opinions as opportunities for growth, but as personal attacks. The same goes for their past mistakes or being presented with new information that challenges their beliefs. It isn’t their fault — we’re wired to assign fixed orientations to objects, events, and ideas, so that when we’re taught to believe something, it becomes part of the core of who we are. In actuality, if our beliefs were more flexible, we’d be able to see a bigger picture, make more informed decisions, and have a higher chance of success and happiness. If we can simply be open to the idea that we may be wrong, we open ourselves up to unlimited possibilities.
The world is incredibly dynamic, and in order to keep up, we have to keep our minds agile and open to the potential of new thoughts, perspectives, and ideas.
Here are two simple self-talk techniques that psychologists recommend for resetting your perspective and opening yourself up to new possibility:
1. Say “for now”
Once my parents stopped telling me when to go to bed, I would stay up as late as possible and sleep until noon or later. I’d tell myself, “I’m a night owl” and “I’m not a morning person,” so every night, I’d find excuses as to why I had to stay up. Even on nights before I had to wake up early for an appointment, a meeting, or a speaking gig, I’d stay up until 3 AM, wake up at 7, wonder why I was tired, and be irritable the rest of the day. Then one day last year, I started saying, “I’m a night owl, for now,” and about a month into the pandemic this year, I began to go to bed before 2 AM and wake up before 8 AM. Now, it’s a daily habit, I’m way more productive, and I eat breakfast when it’s socially acceptable to eat breakfast. All it takes is the repetition of a simple, foreboding “for now,” to open your brain to the possibility of change, and you’ll be in bed by midnight and up before the sun comes up before you know it.
2. Ask “What else could be true?”
Over the last couple of days, my girlfriend has snapped at me over the littlest things: I asked a question during an unsolved mystery documentary about said documentary, I asked if she had taken the dog for a walk at all during the day, since he was bothering me to go outside. At first, all I wanted to do was focus on how irrational her yelling was, but once I pulled myself from the situation and asked “What else could be true?” I began to see a bigger picture. “What else could be true? Well first, asking questions about the same movie we’ve both been watching is annoying. Just watch the goddamn movie and let that answer your questions, David.” But by asking this question, I remembered that her job has been causing stress to the the point of anxiety, and I know that when I’m stressed, I get angry at the littlest things. Things that are no more responsible for my anxiety than my bed is responsible for the 3 hours of sleep I got after going to bed at 4 and waking up at 7. Because of this simple form of self-assessment, I avoided snapping back, I laughed to myself about my limiting thoughts, and now things are back to normal. (It also helps when you make her coffee and a breakfast sandwich).
Today, tonight during the presidential debate, or next week as you’re scrolling through the madness of social media, be open to expanding your perspective. Don’t be married to your ideas and stances, so that when you’re presented with new information or ideas, you stand in the way of your own growth. Heck, in ten years, I may use this blog post as an example for how much I’ll have changed, but what I do know for a fact is that I will always be open to applying new ideas to what I think I know. Also, don’t judge me on my joke writing from 2020… 2030 will be my year.
Toxic workplaces: we’ve all worked somewhere that seemed to drain our happiness, but when the place is a nationally televised talk show featuring a personality with a message of “Be kind,” it hits different.
For those who weren’t aware of the workplace toxicity reports on Ellen, here’s a quick refresher:
One current employee and 10 former staffers claimed they endured a culture of racism, fear and intimidation. They blamed senior managers on the show for allowing the behavior.
The allegations in the Buzzfeed report included former employees saying they were fired for taking time off for medical leave or bereavement. — Source: Today.com
36 former employees of the show reported “handsy” behavior, asking for sexual favors, and groping by multiple producers and higher-ups at “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” — Source: Insider.com
This coupled with comedian Kevin T. Porter’s viral tweet thread requesting stories about Ellen being mean, it seemed as though the world was piling on Ellen DeGeneres, and rightfully so. It’s one thing to run a toxic workplace environment, it’s quite another to run a toxic workplace environment while asking your audience to be kind, which is why the stories got so much traction and #cancelellen was trending.
Here are six (plus one) lessons I learned while watching Ellen apologize.
Lesson 1: When confronted with reports of a toxic work environment, address it immediately
When Ellen returned today, she was expected to address the elephant in the room, and she did, but the Buzzfeed report was released in July, it’s now two months later. Imagine your workplace’s environment being so negative that employees reported it to your local news organization, then you disappear into your office for two months before addressing it publicly. Whether you’re the culprit of the mistreatment of others or not, it’s your job to address criticisms and complaints as though you’re the perpetrator. You set the tone. Even if you don’t have all of the answers, other people are counting on you to say admit that, and assure them with your words and actions that you’re actively pursuing a solution. I live by the quote, “This wasn’t my fault, but it’s my responsibility now,” and if you’re a leader, you should too. It gives you power, shows you’re willing to shoulder the burden of responsibility, and gives people the courage to come to you if something is stopping them from doing their jobs to their best of their abilities. During her statement, Ellen admitted to fumbling the responsibility that comes with her power — a step in the right direction.
Lesson 2: Be open to vulnerability
“Being known as ‘The Be Kind Lady’ is a tricky position to be in. So let me give you some advice out there: if anybody’s thinking of changing their title or giving yourself a nickname, do not go with ‘The Be Kind Lady.’” — Ellen DeGeneres
In a position of power, it is easy to take ourselves too seriously in order to maintain an air of confidence and control. If you make a mistake and you’re looking for forgiveness from your team, your customers, or your community, it is incredibly helpful to show your human side. We all make mistakes, and admitting that is a huge step in winning back the trust of others. By admitting that she’s not always kind, that she gets sad, mad, anxious, frustrated, and impatient, and that she’s a work in progress, Ellen delivers the message that at least she has some self-awareness — a fantastic starting point.
Lesson 3: Use humor without minimizing the situation
To open her monologue, Ellen broke the ice with a little bit of humor:
“How was everybody’s summer? Good? Mine was great!”
Then, when accepting responsibility, she did it again:
“This is the Ellen DeGeneres show, I am Ellen DeGeneres. My name is there. My name is there. My name is… on underwear.”
Some may assert that this is minimizing some of these serious allegations, but the humor is well-placed, and is mostly targeted toward herself. Though not all apologies and course corrections need a dose of humor, be sure to use it to point out your own flaws, mistakes, and vulnerabilities, but also be sure to use it as a springboard or stepping stone toward making changes.
Lesson 4: Offer gratitude openly
Though I wish she would’ve spent more time showing gratitude toward her employees, Ellen at least made mention of the people who allow her to do what she does best: make people laugh. As a leader, we need to do this every day and as much as possible, hence the italics for emphasis. We cannot reach our full potential without the contributions of others, and to help them reach their potential, be vocal about pointing out the positive impacts they have on your day, whether in public, or 1-on-1.
Lesson 5: Communicate a vision
When offering regret, admitting to mistakes, and asking for forgiveness, be sure to communicate that you’re committed to your original why. If you are mistreating employees, putting profits over people, and allowing hate in your workplace, you’ve lost your vision. When you ask yourself why your organization exists, the answer is always to serve people, and those people especially include your employees.
Lesson 6: Commit to change
“I still want to be the one hour a day that people can go to escape and laugh. I want to continue to help all the people that we help every day.” — Ellen DeGeneres
From this quote, for example, Ellen and her employees will know if she is actually committed to her vision because if they don’t feel going to work is an escape. If they don’t laugh while they’re at work, then it’s much harder to bring those things to their viewers. If your vision at your organization is to help your community, that should be the first thing on your mind when an employee is falling short of your expectations. If your actions don’t match your words, then your apology means nothing and you’ve learned nothing. We all make mistakes, but the only way to regain trust and show that you’ve grown is to act on your words.
Bonus Lesson: Follow up
I would love to see Ellen deliver a follow-up monologue stating all of the ways the working conditions have improved. Transparency is key here. If you want to mean what you say, push yourself to give updates on all of the changes you’ve made and ask for honest feedback. When people come to you with ideas, even if it seems like they’re attacking or complaining, keep in mind that they’re doing it because they want you to be better, which makes them better too. Be open to asking for help if you need it and you feel you aren’t keeping your word. Ellen’s latest stand-up special is called Relatable, and one of the most relatable things she, and you, can do as a leader is to be a vulnerable and flawed human being who needs reminders to “be kind.”
That title makes me sound like someone going into a downward spiral to madness. Don’t worry, I won’t be formulating some diabolical scheme to replace the flu vaccine with vials of COVID, but I do think this is a question we have to ask ourselves.
Sure, the effects of the virus are less than desirable, and this has shown us we have a lot of growing to do in terms of virology, our political and economic systems, and, you know, being better humans. But in calling this virus as simply “bad,” or “negative,” or a “disaster,” we limit our potential to grow beyond it. ” I’m not a lunatic — I swear — I’m not going to label this pandemic as “good” either. You see, this unexpected worldwide disruption that threw a sense of stasis into chaos is neither good nor bad. The virus doesn’t pick and choose who to infect, who to kill, and what side to take in a political debate, but our need to answer the definitive question of “good vs. bad” has skewed how we view it, feel about it, and deal with it. It also impacts people’s perceptions of other people. Somehow, a “common enemy” has created more of an “us vs. them” dynamic than the “we’re in this together” narrative nearly every marketing campaign adopted at the beginning of it all.
Nice try, Southwest Airlines — looks like we aren’t free to move around the country.
Binary thinking destroys nuance, and when dealing with a never-before-seen health crisis, nuance is needed in order for us to generate creative solutions more than ever. One of my favorite Shakespeare quotes sums it up pretty succinctly:
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Our brain absorbs so much data every day, we categorize it subconsciously based upon our conditioning, so when we decide that something is either good or bad, right or wrong, or Republican or Democrat, our brains search for the details that support our position, and we act on that information. This severely limits possibilities, so that if someone is arguing on behalf of a conflicting opinion, it becomes nearly impossible to see logic in their perspective. At the same time, they have no idea how you can be so daft.
What’s the solution?
When you hear yourself shove an obstacle, another person, or some opinion into the good or bad categories, stop yourself. Instead, for example, say COVID-19 is an opportunity. If you have the time, make a list of as many ways your situation can be an opportunity, and benefit from an expanded, nuanced perspective that wasn’t even a possibility moments before. Good and bad create a limited perception of the problem, but by labeling it as an opportunity, it opens our minds up to waaaaay more possibilities.
For example, COVID-19 has opened up opportunities to:
Learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable
Practice adapting to sudden adversity
Lean into new technologies that have the power to connect people from across the globe
Develop more of a sense of meaning in people’s work
Work remotely, reducing commuting time that can add unnecessary stressors to people’s days
Educate people on disseminating the truth of online content
Start new conversations about new problems that need addressed
Empathize with and be kind to others — we’re all going through this
Adapt new leadership strategies that emphasize the creativity of the people around you
Discover new mediums for producing content
See what I mean? This list could keep going and going and…
Except we’re so focused on outcomes, being right, and forcing abstract events into categories, that most of us aren’t even discussing how many opportunities exist right in front of our eyes. We’re just choosing not to see them.
Without adversity, there can be no growth, but if we spend all of our time cementing our own opinions with reasons why the current crisis is bad, we miss out. Take some time and ask yourself, “How is my situation an opportunity to be kind, to connect with people unlike me, to be open to new ideas, to address this obstacle differently, and to try something new?” This changes what you see, how you feel, what you do, and what you get. Like those early marketing campaigns said, “We’re all in this together.” It’s time to act like it.
The world is desperate for a coronavirus cure — we want life to get back to normal, but I can’t help but feel like we haven’t exhausted all options.
Has no one tried leeches?
If you think that sounds absurd, you’re right: leeches would only alleviate the symptoms of COVID, and not address the cause.
Many of the solutions to problems that our government, medical professionals, and workplace leadership propose involve treating symptoms of problems, rather than addressing the causes. This is just as effective as using leeches to cure, well, anything.
Addressing symptoms creates short-term results, and it can serve as a stopgap to solving the actual cause of the problem, but it won’t actually solve the problem.
When I was in college, I smashed the transmission of my Saturn driving over a curb on a night of bad decisions, causing a massive fluid leak. Instead of paying for a whole new transmission, I decided to pay a mechanic to weld it back together, which stopped the leak, but a few months later, the transmission completely blew and I had to get a new car altogether. Because I wasted my resources on a short-term fix, I ended up paying more in the long run.
Now, I don’t know what “getting to the core” of our world’s health crisis is, but I do know the long-term solution to most societal problems is to overhaul our education system. Did that solution come out of left field? Maybe in terms of this post, but our current education system as it stands is hampering our human potential. We can ban guns, offer universal basic income, and elect different representatives all we want, but these are addressing the symptoms of an even greater problem.
Our education system is designed to meet the needs of the Industrial Revolution, a time when humans took on the role of robots in factories to complete specialized tasks, so schools taught students how to be compliant and fit into those roles. Now, we’re entering the automation revolution, where actual robots are taking those jobs and creating a more efficient production process. In the short-term, this may seem like a bad thing: “THEY’RE TAKING OUR JOBS!” But in the long-term, this can be an amazing development in human history because it frees up millions of people from doing repetitive, simple tasks that numbs their brains, allowing them the chance to engage the natural human inclination to do creative work. But if schools keep producing compliant humans, the only solution humans will see is, “WE NEED TO GET OUR JOBS BACK!” This outcome is nothing more than addressing a symptom created by the obsoleteness of our education system.
Humans aren’t meant to work in factories. We operate at our best when we’re working together to find novel ways to solve problems, but today’s education is a one-size-fits-all system that emphasizes output over creativity, and the importance of the individual over the group.
If you work in a factory, and an employee has a creative idea to make work more fun, the manager is bound to shoot that idea down because it means a shift in roles, and perhaps short-term losses. In fact, that employee may be viewed as a troublemaker. Our society questions the innovative individual, rather than the system that stifles their potential.
We’ve confined ourselves to a system that works against us in a 21st century economy.
We’ve confined ourselves to a system that demeans anyone who dare question that system.
We’ve confined ourselves to a system that steers people away from doing jobs that are mentally and spiritually engaging to jobs that are mentally and spiritually draining.
And this isn’t even an issue in this year’s presidential election.
Billions of people around the world don’t think they’re talented, intelligent, or creative, not because they aren’t, but because they’ve been shoved into a system that tells them they’re not.
The world is changing so rapidly that, if there isn’t a fundamental revolution in how we educate ourselves over the next decade, problems like climate change, equality, and pandemics will make today’s problems seem like child’s play. This isn’t meant to be foreboding and apocalyptic, it’s meant to be a call to action.
Education reform begins with learning how human beings think and behave, then leaning into our natural inclinations and creativity to address the problem with an actual solution: teach students how to think, howto work together, and how to engage their creativity. Once we do that, there’s no limit to our potential.
Until then, we’re stuck in a system that emphasized job titles, individualism, and output as metrics for success, while we argue over which symptoms to solve by throwing stupid amounts of money at them… we might as well be using leeches.