19th Ask Josh – Why an Idiot?

In Uncategorized on September 13, 2008 at 9:05 am

Josh? Why do you choose to be an idiot?  Why on earth do you act the way that you act?



Oh dear me,

Controversies that are clear to those involved and mysterious to those uninvolved regarding my conscious choice to be an idiot have arisen in recent days.

Why do I publicly make an idiot of myself for laughs?  

Before I get into that, let me start with a piece of advice written by an ancient king of Heracleopolis whose name has gone unknown by historians.  He wrote this treatise for his son and eventual successor, Merikare.  He said, “Calm the weeper… Instill the love of you into all the world” (Teaching for Merikare. c. 2135-2040 b.c., Parable 8, 24).

I have made it my life’s work to build people up, to make them laugh, to make them feel better, to calm the weeper, and instill love into all the world. I made the conscious decision that I would not put a person down, that I would only seek to raise spirits.  There is so much meanness in the world, no need to add to it.

I must have made the decision around 6th grade, I made most of my major life’s decisions between 6th and 8th grade believe it or not. Two events come to mind:

One boy, much bigger than me (I was a bit of a runt for a very long time, I never was big enough to be an effective athlete at anything until late in my junior year of high school), had the ability to pick on me, and he chose to do so.  I might add that this very large boy also stole my first girlfriend I ever had, thus contributing to my first broken heart.  I don’t say this to be bitter, and I bear no grudge against this person, in fact, we are facebook friends.  But at the young age I remember my dad telling me that I should turn the other cheek, and that I shouldn’t judge him because I didn’t know the life he lived at home.  I later found out about the life he lived at home, he was the neighbor of one of my church buddies.  My bully came from a broken home, or at least it was in the process of breaking.  As I have observed his life since we parted ways upon leaving the 6th grade, I have sympathized with what his life has become.  A very intelligent, athletic, liked by many boy, is now rather a dismal scene for me to behold.

The other experience happened at a father-son campout.  I was playing on a dock on a beach.  There were kids my age and a kid who I had perceived as kind of a nerd.  He was rather mousey I might say and was gangly even though he was very short, one of those kids whose bicep you could wrap between your thumb and middle finger. He could not play sports, was a bit antisocial, I remember seeing his name way high up on the Accelerated Reader scoreboard or something like that, and I remember seeing him reading alone during many a recess.  Anyway, back to the story.  As we were playing he was able to loosen up and come out of his shell and jokingly pushed me off the dock before he had time to think of the implications of so doing.  I fell into the lake that none of us had planned on entering during that cold Oregon Cascades’ weekend. I hadn’t packed any clothes for the trip because we planned on leaving late in the night, it was so cold we didn’t even want to bother camping.  I fell in, all my clothes were soaked.  I didn’t get to see my scrawny friend after that, he was so scared that I would hurt him that he ran into the woods and cried.  Admittedly, I was glad at the time that he was so scared, I felt like a big man knowing that he ran scared from me.  I ended up spending the rest of the evening alone, in a cabin by a wood stove, wearing nothing but a grown man’s warmup pants, while the rest of the fathers and sons enjoyed whatever activity they enjoyed in the mess hall. In my miserable state at the time of the incident I wanted to find that boy and at least scare him good if not beat him to the pulp of which I thought myself easily capable.  But amid my misery my dad told me something to this effect: “Tomorrow morning, you will be dry.  And tomorrow morning he will wake up and he will still be himself.”  As I have watched that young man grow up, I have seen him go through tough times of his own.  We led parallel lives in some ways, but it seemed that he had to struggle much more than I did only to receive a comparable pittance of success.  The last I heard the young man has sort of lost his sense of self and just sort of dresses and chains and pierces himself as necessary to gain and keep what he thinks are his friends.  Whereas I still find myself saying from time to time, “I love being me.”

What of those stories?  Well, I was bullied, and I was in a position to be the bully.  But I found that neither of them would have been helped by my lashing out at them.  Indeed, their lives were much harder than I even now can understand or appreciate.  I sometimes feel like I am out of touch with most people because my life has seemed so easy.  I can’t put my arm around them and say, “I know what you’re going through.” Because I don’t know what they’re going through.  In many ways the ignorance of my youth has been left almost completely intact.

Compared to the great cumbersome duffel bags and chests and trunks of emotional baggage that many carry, I have something of a coin purse that is significantly easier to manage.  As the poet Virgil said, “Each of us bears his own Hell” (Aeneid, VI, l. 743).  But whatever mine is, by no deservedness of my own, it has been quite manageable.

Back to the idiocy.  Why act like an idiot?  I have found that my life’s work will be to build people up, to have the optimistic attitude always, to be happy when nobody else seemed to have a reason to.  It really isn’t difficult.  I don’t even have to fake being happy. Like the Apostle Paul, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11). By not really caring what happens to me, I can build people.

Some people have found this kind of behavior to be annoying, not a few, including family members. Some find it embarrassing.  But those who know–those who have eyes to see what I see–get it.  Those who don’t seem to get it may ask the same question that a girl once asked me, “What’s with all the happiness?”

The feelings of those perturbed may be summed up in this poem quoted by Jeffrey R. Holland in his speech “The Will of the Father in All Things” (BYU – 17 January 1989):

If you can smile when things go wrong

And say it doesn’t matter,

If you can laugh off cares and woe

And trouble makes you fatter,

If you can keep a cheerful face

When all around are blue,

Then have your head examined, bud,

There’s something wrong with you.

For one thing I’ve arrived at:

There are no ands and buts,

A guy that’s grinning all the time

Must be completely nuts.

I don’t always have to humiliate myself, I just like to have that childlike enthusiasm. Like how in second grade you used to raise your hand really high and use the other hand to prop that hand up, you really wanted to be a part of what was going on.  Now I go to large lecture halls where the professor will ask for a volunteer and I see silent indifference.  Whatever happened to the hand shooting up, raised high with the child saying, “OH! ME ME ME, pick ME! Please pick me! I know this one! I know it!”?

Well, I don’t know when or how we lost the second grade spirit, but I’m bringing it back.

As Gandhi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”  I will not wait for someone else to raise their hand, or pause to lift another, or point out the silver lining on the clouds. I have decided to take matters into my own hands. And the best way I know how is not to give them advice (although I do rather enjoy giving it to those who seek it on this blog), but to self-deprecating humor and jokes at my expense seem to be the best way for them to see that the situation is not so bad, and they get up and get back to work.

This rather masochistic-seeming self-debasement is, of course, nonconformist.  And partially that is why I like it so much.  I choose to not join in the sentiment of a world that seems to continually exalt itself while at the same time making its situation continually worse. As Robert Frost said in his timeless poem: 

“Two roads diverged in a wood. And I, I took the one less travelled by. And that has made all the difference.” 

No great good was ever done by anyone who just went with the flow.   Joseph Smith was “a disturber and an annoyer” (JS-H 1:20). The earliest apostles after preaching truth were accused of being “full of new wine” even though it was but the third hour of the day (Acts 2). Even Jesus had to overthrow a few tables and chairs (Mt. 21:12, Mk. 11:15).

“Results worth having can only be achieved by men who combine worthy ideals with practical good sense.  If I must choose between righteousness and peace, I choose righteousness.”  – Theodore Roosevelt.

In the spirit of President Roosevelt’s comment, I refuse to stand idly by while sadness spreads and prevails.  If I must choose between conformity and happiness, I choose happiness.

I have heard it said, I don’t remember where from, that the man who seeks only the approval of everyone automatically relegates himself to the lowest denomination of human existence. Publilius Syrus said, “It is an unhappy lot which finds no enemies.”  Will there be naysayers? Of course.  The unhappy have always despised the happy.  

Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

One person who disagreed with my attitude asked, “I enjoy laughter as much as the next person, but must everything be a joke?”  

That’s a good point.  About 4500 years ago a man named Ptahhotpe said, “One who is serious all day will never have a good time, while one who is frivolous all day will never establish a household” (Maxims of Ptahhotpe, 25).  Life can’t be all jokes, it is true. I don’t make a joke of everything, but I know if I had to, I could.  Read this by Victor Frankl, a Jewish man who survived the Nazi concentration camps in World War II.

“The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living. Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent.”

That is to say, yes. I can be happy no matter what. If it can be done mortal men in a concentration camp, then I can do it. Learning to brush it off and laugh is just one of the ways we “master the art of living.”

Sometimes laughing at tragedy comes off as calloused or careless or oblivious to reality. When my little brother’s girlfriend broke up with him, he was able to laugh it off and carry on. He carried no bitterness, he did not seek to defame the girl. The girl was a little offended that he didn’t perhaps wallow in enough self-pity before moving on. She wishes he would have been more of a typical jerk ex-boyfriend. It led her to almost lash out and complain to his friends, “does Andy care about anything!?!” I admire Andy’s resilience. I suppose too many of us think that our world being turned upside-down must mean the end of the world. No, the world goes on, just upside-down, one more thing to poke fun at.

That’s not to say that I don’t have occasion to cry and indulge in the practice once in a while. But I have learned to laugh even at the times when I was crying over something. Like Jack Handey said, “It takes a big man to cry, but it takes an even bigger man to laugh at that man.”

I wish to conclude with an invitation made by Jeffrey R. Holland. But before I do, let me say this: I hope someday you’ll join me in my mission to make the world a happier place. Break out of your shell, throw caution to the wind, forget yourself, leave your comfort zone, reach out and touch someone. Don’t count the cost as how it will make you look or if you’ll embarrass yourself if you aren’t that good at making jokes. Strengthen the feeble knees, lift up the hands which hang down (Heb. 12:12). Build others. The world needs healing. Laughter heals. Ergo, the world needs laughter. Help me heal. Start today. It’s not so hard, “Nothing is so difficult but that it may be found out by seeking” (Terence – Publius Terentius Afer “Heauton Tomoroumenos, line 675).

Now, Elder Holland:

I ask you to be a healer, be a helper, be someone who joins in the work of Christ in lifting burdens, in making the load lighter, in making things better. Isn’t that the phrase we used to use as children when we had a bump or a bruise? Didn’t we say to Mom or Dad, ‘Make it better.’ Well, lots of people on your right hand and on your left are carrying bumps and bruises that they hope will be healed and made whole. Someone sitting within reasonable proximity to you tonight is carrying a spiritual or physical or emotional burden of some sort or some other affliction drawn from life’s catalog of a thousand kinds of sorrow. In the spirit of Christ’s first invitation to Philip and Andrew and then to Peter and the whole of his twelve apostles, jump into this work. Help people. Heal old wounds and try to make things better.” – Jeffrey R. Holland (Come unto Me. Jeffrey R. Holland – 2 March 1997).
  1. josh, you’re my hero!! seriously and honestly. love you!

  2. From one class clown to another…In the words of one of my favorite poets, B. Joel “I could not love you any better, I love you just the way you are.”

  3. “Cultivate a cheerful attitude and the ability to laugh, even at yourself. A sour face and grumpy disposition are truly a gruesome burden to impose on roommates and others.”- Eric B. Shumway (Ensign. October 2008, p. 56)

  4. This is a really good one too Josh.

  5. "Mark it down, brothers and sisters, people too caught up in themselves will inevitably let other people down!" -Neal A. MaxwellI just thought this quote goes well with what you wrote.

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