This morning, on fellow blogger Stef’s Daily Delights, I encountered this Polish proverb: Not my circus, not my monkeys!
Well! I promptly decided to adopt the proverb as my mantra-of-the-day. Enough of the silliness, enough of the small stuff (I thought we agreed not to sweat it, didn’t we?). People want to hang on to the nonsense and carry on like a bunch of monkeys, let ’em!
And I felt really good. There’s lots of ways to take that proverb. One is, don’t sweat the small stuff (see above). Just because everybody around you is going nuts doesn’t mean you have to. For me, it’s a call to let go of grandiosity: do I really think I’m qualified or capable of solving the problems of the world?
But then I did something dangerous. I started to think more about it. For the first time in our lives, we’re living as part of a community, not solely individuals on our own. So far that’s felt really good. It’s meant unaccustomed support in adversity, a source of strength and comfort and companionship. That’s the good stuff. But then — what about the nonsense?
There’s always nonsense. People in any group larger than one get involved, embroiled, carried away. I get really impatient when that happens, say, at community meetings. (Heaven knows it happens in families all the time!) My immediate instinct is to cut out, mentally if not physically. What a boost for me the proverb is! Not my circus, not my monkeys.
But what if it is? Sometimes it actually is, isn’t it? My circus, my monkeys, my family, my community. My political party. My country. What then?
There’s the uncomfortable part of belonging to something more than oneself. Things aren’t so simple anymore. What’s good for me may not be good for all. What I want might be the opposite of what you want. What I need might interfere with what you need. It gets tricky very quickly, when we’re all under one Big Top together.
As for the monkeys — Well, I’ve got my wild and crazy side just like you do. My irrationalities, my stubbornness, my mischievous energy. My restlessness, my boredom, my impatience. Much as I’m loath to, I’ve got to claim some of these monkeys as my own.
The proverb, then, is sometimes right, but oftentimes tragically wrong.
The world is the way it is (oh, today’s headlines! these terrible headlines!) because the circus is out of control. The monkeys have taken over, and all the ringmasters have disappeared.
So what do we need? We need some grownups. (Heaven knows there are more than enough monkeys to go around!) What we need are grown-up human beings with the capacity to reason as well as feel emotion. With self-control enough to be flexible. With humility enough to value compromise.
And maybe some of us (I’m looking in the mirror here) need reminding that sometimes it IS our circus, and it IS our monkeys, and — for better for worse — it’s up to us to do something about it.