We hear a lot about the power of disruption these days, often from people who assume it’s a very good thing. Nearly always, these people see themselves as the disruptors. Disruption often seems great when we get to do it others. Not so much the other way round.
2020 has given me a lot of experiences of being disrupted and I’m not sure how much more of it I can take.
Equally, we all get very fed up with the status quo. Few among us could say we want things to carry on exactly the same.
I think there is a space somewhere between order and chaos where really interesting stuff can happen. And most groups need to be in that space if some kind of change or growth is going to happen.
Too much absurdity or disruption and we dig our heels in, resisting discomfort.
Too little, and we lose interest and check out emotionally.
Kindly mischief is one way of describing that sweet spot.
This was how I managed living with my mother. She struggled, often heroically but sometimes tragically, with severe depression, multiplied by deafness. I spent a lot of my childhood finding ways to cheer her up. I had to bring humour and creativity and often absurdity to often very bleak conversations.
The disruption was done (when I pitched it right) in a way where my intention was loving even if what I did or said was strange.
This has often been something I do for people who get stuck. At University, I remember helping a friend write a speech for office in a society that had repeatedly rejected him, quite rudely, several times before. He was bitter and angry. I suggested he start with an acknowledgment of his past failures and the faux angry demand, “What do you want from me, blood?”, followed by a recap of his past hopeless speeches, recast as desperate pleas for attention. The way it was pitched had to be just right, it had to have a twinkle-in-the-eye to land.
My earnest friend was not known for his comic timing. But on the night he got it just right. He conveyed not taking himself seriously. And he got a warmth of response he’d never achieved before.
He lost again (such are student politics), but it was easily his most effective and audience-pleasing performance.
Time and again, I think the welcoming of absurdity can release us from mental traps of all kinds, If we use it kindly.
A little more Michael Palin, a little less John Cleese, please.