The Wisdom Of Being An Idiot
An essay on the virtues of doing stupid things
There was a moment when you were younger, when somebody noticed something, high or wide, or smelly or dangerous and you all looked at each other, you knew without saying anything; somebody was gonna have to do it. Somebody had to take the plunge.
This is an article about young people. I care about young people because I recently was one, though these days I feel more and more like an eighty-year-old yelling at his TV screen, “God damn hippies!” Look, I’m no Greta Thornberg, and I certainly wasn’t Greta Thornberg when I was sixteen. I was watching conspiracy videos of lizards running Denver airport and going tenths on bags of shit weed. Thinking I was cool for not paying attention in fourth year, quitting boxing and getting caught drinking naggins before underage discos. We threw snowballs at cars, got in fights and made stupid mistakes, and I shudder at the thought of my sixteen-year-old self being given carte blanche to yell about my dreams at the UN because I had a chip on my shoulder. I think most young people do.
Our generation has just as many reasons as others, we’ve been saddled with one of the most complex and borderline unmanageable civilisations that have ever existed, with no shortage of crises, and no shortage of technology to make sure you are aware of these crises (24 hours a day) and feel like an extra bad person if you don’t tune into the media circus. The temptation is to think Rome is burning. Think ‘feck it, we didn’t create the world (Billy Joel and those baby boomers did start the fire!) and we didn’t even create ourselves, now I have to pay taxes and take responsibility for this whole steaming pile of shite?’ I thought I had a raw deal in life too.
My family was different, parents divorced, I was fat and looked Asian, was an Atheist, named Mahon, and I always felt kind of removed from everyone else. Of course, now that I’m older (and slightly less of a narcissist) I know everybody's life isn’t perfect. That when you push past the exterior, there’s a whole world of pain inside each of us, more than anyone could ever understand. And yet still, we are better off than 99% of human beings that have ever existed. I wasn’t a coal miner, crawling to work on my hands and knees, a soldier in a muddy trench. I didn’t die as an infant from the plague, tuberculosis, polio or leprosy. I was never in a famine or executed and it’s kind of funny, because this great privilege we are all sharing in is my only complaint: we’re too fucking comfortable.
When the hardest part of your day is getting out of bed, you are doing alright. You could (pretty easily) drift from that point onward, from one snack to another, working an easy job that affords you reasonable pint money on the weekend and a shit flat in any county (except the one you were born in) and sure if you are from Dublin, there’s always mum and dad. What else would you be doing? Well for one, I don’t skateboard. I can’t (or won’t) and have not put the time in order to be able.
I once rode to the end of my Cul de Sac, flat, belly first on the board like a bowling ball to impress a group of older boys. I hit my chin squarely on the curb and got a plaster which made me look like one of the special kids. I stuck firmly to doing nothing after that, ‘if you don’t try, you can’t fail’ became my motto. Ironically, I found my passion for life again in fighting, boxing, martial arts, and Muay Thai, but I see a lot of parallels between fighting and skateboarding. At the last Goblin gathering, you could hear the intake of breath from the crowd, the more ballsy and risky and complex the trick, the bigger the cheer! Even if you knew nothing about skateboarding (like me) you still know the feeling fear, fear of heights, speed and a cool handrail to the testicles on a winter’s morning (Praise Jesus). And yet, imagination never does anything justice. You can’t imagine the success or the agony, you have to be there, and that’s not an argument we hear very often, why aren’t children doing dangerous things anymore? We hear about safe spaces, trigger warnings, the dangers of hate speech, but what about the dangers of being a coward? Can you make an argument for doing dangerous things? Should you?
I mean there’s been times when I’ve been hit too hard, I’ve had concussions that made me go blind, broken noses, fractured wrists, legs, burst lips and bruised jaws? What’s the point? Couldn’t I just save myself the trouble and not get hurt ever again? Quit? That is what I thought. There are times when that pain made me stop and I wanted to be safe and for years, I took care of myself. I let that voice run my life, the one that says, “Take it easy, take a break, another day off won’t hurt, lie in, snooze the alarm, you’re great just as you are…” I went back to sleep. I shrank away from the challenge of the world and things got so scary, I could barely leave the house without panicking. The blood pressure rose in my ears, “Oh no, here it comes again…” I retreated and got more scared and the more scared I got, the more I retreated, you know the story... I hid in excuses and suffered unbearable agony, for no reason at all.
At the last Goblin gathering, whenever someone landed a trick, everyone cheered. Why? No matter how drunk or intoxicated, when someone did the impossible, we couldn’t help but cry out. It’s old, primal, fundamental, even if someone ate pavement we cheered, sometimes even louder, perhaps because we understand failure is a part of success, but then why are we all so scared? What motivates some people to get on their skateboards on a winter’s day and cross the border into Belfast to leather themselves around all day? To the unskilled eye that’s pretty weird behaviour, deviant even, but it could be the answer to our anxious, depressed generation. I’m not making an argument for all-out madness here (though I would prefer people going down buildings on skateboards rather than jumping off them), but we have a mental health movement that is gathering pace and yet still misses the point.
Don’t get me wrong, awareness is amazing and my biggest complaint about this country, when I was younger, was no-one was talking, but now I think we are in danger of going in the opposite direction. We are creatures of action, so better than talking, is to get up and do something. And if you disagree, I have a little riddle for you, one which I puzzled over for years: “What does a mentally healthy person look like?” I’ll pause for effect and let that sink in.
Now imagine that Samuel L Jackson was asking you,
“WHAT DOES A MENTALLY HEALTHY PERSON LOOK LIKE...DOES HE LOOK LIKE A BITCH!?”
Is it the person who lies in, takes a break, drinks tea all day and addresses every single feeling that flies through their head like a fart? Is it the me that was hungover in bed watching youtube videos all day or the monster who got up at five in the morning and got after it? The mentally healthy person takes the plunge, but why? What did we all know when we were young and stupid but have now forgotten? In the words of Dean Martin: “Good judgement comes from experience and experience, well, that comes from poor judgement…” And that ladies and germs, is the wisdom of being an idiot.