Last week it struck me, as I was sitting in a company meeting on Monday afternoon, how many people in the room were playing dead.
Keeping a low profile, not saying too much, not showing too much emotion, just being present and letting the daring few carry the day.
I studied the faces and the postures of those in the room, and I noticed how they were looking thoughtful, intelligent, earnest, subdued, and even sad. And then I suddenly realised they were all trying to not be excited.
Wow. How many hours and days and weeks and years do some people spend trying to not be excited? Why do they do it? And what’s the price they pay?
Well, you see, the business of business is a serious matter. Showing or even suggesting excitement is like to laughing at a funeral; entirely inappropriate. And so, in order to take on the cover of sombre, serious, sadness, people dim their light a bit. They dumb down their feelings and emotions, and curb their enthusiasm.
After all, everyone in the room had their reputation to protect, and no one wanted to ruin their reputation by saying something stupid like, “I love that”. Or by smiling, or laughing, or doing anything else that might appear foolish and irrational.
Playing dead is a serious business
They were playing dead because acting too lively, and being too alive, is just not a good look. It’s child’s play, and no business for the practical, responsible adult who is making his or her way in the serious world of big business.
That evening, when I got home, my mood was flat and I felt sucked dry. Sucked dry by a roomful of people who were playing dead. And as I thought about it some more – why is this bugging me so much? – I thought how these people are probably lying low everywhere in their lives. I thought how these people are probably always playing dead, dividing themselves in half, and then in half again, until what’s left is one quarter of their whole selves. Oh wow, what a way to live – or not live.
Two days later I had the privilege to listen to Andrew Denton make a keynote talk on creativity. He talked of overcoming fear, and being alive. And he concluded his talk by reminding us all of the saying, “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”
Amen to that.