I got my first joke book when I was six. It had one joke per page, accompanied by a depiction of each joke.
It was my parents’ biggest mistake, God bless them.
I told these jokes ALL THE TIME. I discovered I could make people laugh and smile and feel good.
And I couldn’t get enough of it.
I didn’t even understand all the jokes.
One of the jokes read: A man is walking across a log over a ravine. There are rocks on one side and alligators on the other. The man loses balance. Against what does he fall?
The answer: Against his will.
What kind of existential joke is that to put in a book for first-graders???
I didn’t understand it, but people seemed to laugh when the six-year-old Eric told it, so it became my favorite joke.
His name was Michael Yesuvas.
We’d been friends when we were younger, but Michael had grown a lot faster than the other kids. I didn’t like the way he was throwing his weight around. So I challenged him, even though he was bigger than me.
The schoolbell rang and it seemed the entire school walked with us toward the site where he and I would fight.
But it wouldn’t be much of a fight.
“Are you going to win?” the kids asked me as I walked
I couldn’t respond. All I could do was walk. And hope. Hope that my limbs, now turning icy with paralysis, wouldn’t fail me.
I was paralyzed. I wouldn’t be able to do anything, except barely lift my arms in self-defense as the fight began.
It wasn’t a fight. I didn’t fight back at all.
Michael Yesuvas ended it by throwing me over a fence and delivering one last punch to the head.
I walked home crying.
I was sitting on my steps at home when my mother walked in.
“What happened to you?” she said, looking at my roughed-up face.
“I got in a fight.”
“Did you at least win?” she said.
Why did my body fail me when I needed it most?
I did not choose to become paralyzed with fear. In fact this paralysis was teh worst possible outcome. I didn’t even put up a fight.
It is the same fear you experience when you go to approach a woman and your body locks up. Logically you don’t care, you have nothing invested in your interaction with this stranger you will never see again.
But your body sees fear.
It is a stereotpyical response. It’s like embarrassment.
You are out to lunch with your friend and you accidentally spill soda all over him. You become embarrassed. Your face begins to blush.
You have no control over this response. You did not choose to be embarrassed. You are not your embarrassment.
You cannot reason with your fear. You cannot communicate with it.
When you act under fear you are only capable of repitive, rigid responses to your environment. Your intelligence is shut down. You become a puppet, fearful and introspective.
My paralysis walked to the playground was a distress pattern. But this unchanging pattern is not me. It is distinct from me, holding me captive.
I am not my fear.
This is the same pattern that urges me not to seize and take initiative, to play a following rather than leading role. To not walk up to that attractive person.
It is completely different from the flexible creative behaivor of the joke-telling Eric. The joke-telling Eric took initiative in his environment, happily probing and extending control over it.
My true nature.
The joke-telling Eric saw every person as a target, a new person whom I could make smile. All of a sudden everyone around me was an opportunity to show how fun, creative, and intelligent I was.
Without fear I am completely admirable and approvable without limit. I am perfect.
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