When I used to be known as ‘acting all serious’


We had a meeting at work yesterday. The place I work is the prototypical bloated international corporate conglomerate which is composed of countless layers and strata of dotted lines and contrived titles created with the consummate aim of justifying a top heavy structure. Meetings are ubiquitous. I like to joke that ______ is the place where management prefers to talk about working than actually working.


The problem with most meetings is that many of the conductors of said meetings tend to be so wrapped up in their false self-importance that they lose sight of the vapid non-import of the meeting in question. My manager is one of those people who falls prey to such self-involved reflections of inward adoration. The meeting involved a large group of people and at one point, one of our project managers was called into the conference room. He is a hard worker and does his job well, but he is not incredibly serious. Also in the conference room was an operations manager and one of our top salesmen. The three of them fell into a familiar sounding exchange which broke up the excruciating monotony of the meeting. It involved them talking among themselves in low voices and making light of various things and laughing. This episode lasted a few minutes. My self-important manager, so buried in her “zone,” asked a question and the salesman answered facetiously with an answer and tone that anyone with an iota of social intelligence could obviously tell was a put-on. My manager, so wrapped up in the diligent urgency of her task, squinted and appeared to not understand his answer. Finally, apparently noting the smiles and laughs, she realized the joke was on her. “Oh, you’re just kidding with me,” she concluded in the understatement of the corporate 3rd quarter.


The thing to keep in mind is that these guys are hard-working, conscientious people. But they can laugh within the context of their job. They have a holistic perspective regarding the importance of their roles. Perspective is the key for the higher rungs of the corporate ladder and I appreciate someone who can skillfully blend levity with seriousness while not gravitating to either extreme. The key is to be cognizant of when humor and gravity are appropriate and comprehending social cues which pave the comic path, even during moments of ostensible seriousness. It’s a form of multitasking, this ability to laugh while solving problems. My manager, on the other hand, is a self-important young girl who is overly enamored of her earnest mission to save the world, one spreadsheet at a time. Her discernment of social cues is obviously faulty because her ability to not be serious is hampered by her egotistical neediness.


The ability to laugh and make light of things is an indicator of social intelligence, but the ability to balance seriousness and levity is the sign of social genius. On the other hand, there are people who lack ability to engage seriousness and seem mired in a state of chronic lighthearted glibness, much to their own peril and trivialized reputation. Most people like this probably won’t rise far in the corporate ranks due to its serious, conformist nature. They usually are thought of as slackers or fuck-ups.


The two extremes present dichotomous approaches to the element of seriousness in our lives and how we entertain that which we presume to prioritize in our own reality. I’ve reached a state where I make a concerted effort to balance the rigors of seriousness with the nonsensical embellishments of humor. One thing I’ve never been guilty of is taking myself too seriously; however, I do suffer from a an overly serious (staid) personality which finds no pleasure in mundane distractions or elevator or kitchen fluff talk. In fact, when I was a pre-teen, the friends on my block had a nickname for me: “acting all serious.” That’s a terribly long, cumbersome nickname, but they made it work. “Here comes Acting All Serious!” I did act serious and I saw no humor in the crap that amused them. I was overly conscientious and very uptight about “behaving” even though I didn’t abide by most rules either. Even now, I don’t let my hair down. I think I’ve coped with this inhibition through most of my adult life by boozing. I believe many alcoholics may be suffering a similar inability to “lower” themselves to the level of base behavior and treat life in a distastefully informal manner. So in order to attain this crude level of superficial nirvana, they chemically release their normal inhibitions.


And overcome seriousness.