Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Importance of Being Earnest

I'm a pretty snarky person. Pri is too. It isn't that we don't love a good touching emotional moment - but we have a "healthy" sense of ironic distance in circumstances that call for it.  My week, however, has been an exercise in managing that boundary.Ironic distance is, roughly, the ability to take a step away from the situation and admit it is a little hokey, silly, futile or whatever - and then proceed with the task taking it all a little less seriously.

It was kickoff week at the ol' office, and that brought with it teambuilding events and company presentations. As a member of the management team, I am not allowed ironic distance at such an event. And, as a member of the management team, I know enough about the planning of the event, the truth behind the presentations, and the challenges of the coming year to have a rather healthy skepticism of the entire thing. But, my job was to help rally the troops - and really, who wins if I sit out? At the end of the day, leading my team to victory (ha!) in Cranium was fun, and there's no reason to stand back like a jaded teenager and refuse to participate, lest I appear too nerdy or uncool. 

Ironic distance, however, enabled me to play the game, and then refrain from acting like a total douche by shoving it in everyone's face later. It's only a game... 

Meanwhile, I found myself in other situations this week where there was not nearly enough ironic distance in the crowd. Some things are just so contrived that they require a healthy sense of perspective. Among those things are bachelorette parties, networking events and speeddating. Let's take the latter as an example. You can't walk into a speeddating event filled with people who are adamantly and seriously dating. Everyone typically comes to these events with a "eh, this is so hokey, but what the hell..." attitude, which is healthy enough to prevent you from getting hurt when someone doesn't want to see you again.

If people took it seriously, you'd think they were wierd. On the other hand, if they took it too badly ("What the hell is the point?") you'd expect them to leave. But everyone comes, laughs at themselves, and proceeds with the speeddating with a glimmer of hope that something might come out of it. 

I was at an event of this level of goofiness this week, where everyone took it too seriously, at least in my mind. It felt like I couldn't even snarkily say "Oh, prince charming is SO one speeddate away!" without being shot a look that clearly communicated "only believers will succeed. Away naysayer!" 

I think there may be some confusion. Ironic distance gives you the emotional detachment to proceed without entering into a conflict between what you know to be unlikely, ridiculous, or goofy and what you know to be true. Speeddating is unlikely to net me a prince charming, but I want to proceed anyways, with lowered expectations. That space is created with a little distance from the experience. It doesn't mean you don't want to proceed. You're not abstaining. You're just re-framing. Those of us who chose to create this mental space are not being insolent or mutinous - we're in. We're good. We're just seeing the humor in the situation. And we're not being earnest. 

Cut us some slack. Try it sometime. It might make everything a little funnier.

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