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Life Lessons You Can Learn From The Joker

Life Lessons You Can Learn From The Joker

    Batman’s most infamous nemesis, the Joker, has been a longstanding archetype for prankish mayhem, and the late Heath Ledger’s masterful performance in The Dark Knight has only elevated the character to new heights. Despite the Joker’s unforgettable acts as a sociopathic murderer, many people are intrigued by him, and even find this Clown Prince of Crime to be maddeningly charismatic.

    So what’s there to love? A lot, and here’s why:

    Storytelling matters!

    In “ye olde days”, humankind had myths and fables. Today, we have comic books and graphic novels. A central part of the human condition will always be an interest in motivation: whether it’s why someone killed another person or how someone came to be the deranged maniac they are today — that someone for the purposes of this illustration being the Joker — knowing the “roots of the tree” is a persuasive, compelling hook. Even if the person telling the story is a lying psycho, if they’re convincing, you can’t help but want to believe. Clearly, this can be used for nefarious as well as positive purposes.

    A central thrust of successful marketing, emphasized by everyone from guerilla pioneer Jay Conrad Levinson to newer mavericks like Seth Godin, is that people love to be told stories. They don’t necessarily have to be nice stories, but they must be memorable. Whether you’re babysitting kids or closing a big deal, telling a story that’ll stick with your audience is key: a story is a soft shell that seals in the facts and livens up hard data.

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    And even if the “facts” are subject to reinterpretation as we’ll see, it doesn’t change that people love a good yarn. And always will.

    Reimage yourself while keeping your core!

    This is also known as “reinventing your image”, but I figured that was too long: plus, since the Joker is our example and his origins are birthed in visuals, it makes sense to say reimage.

    Changing your mind too often is a bad thing and would result in more flip-flopping than Two-Face in a penny fountain. But spaced out over time after people have gotten used to change, reimaging — or even reimagining — keep things sparklingly fresh, as long as the core of who you are is consistent and earnest.

    The Joker’s origin story has changed many times over decades, and portrayals of him range from zany to disturbing (or a mix of both). But he’s most commonly recognized as having a pale or white skin, an impossibly wide grin, green hair, and a mostly-purple suit. Those visual aspects combine with his characteristics as a crazy killer clown. If we were to reinvent him as, say, a kindly fireman and not set it up as a trick, the readers would feel betrayed and all manner of YouTube-quality comments would erupt.

    The same is true for all popular characters who’ve been reimaged, from Sun Wukong (the trickster Chinese “Monkey King” now being featured in Olympics ads) to, well, Batman’s other villains. And it’s true for you too: whether you have a personal reputation to uphold or are representing a company, your focuses can change over time, but your core values cannot — the Joker wouldn’t be the Joker without a demented sense of what’s funny.

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    Use wild humor and capture it!

    By “wild”, I don’t mean “disgusting” or “death-inducing” as the Joker tends to do, but I do mean these attributes which the Joker flaunts: visceral, raw, spontaneous, and passionate.

    Here’s the problem: I’ve often heard people improvise something brilliant and wickedly humorous mid-conversation, and then I egg them on to write it down for later. They don’t, and that gem gets lost. This saddens me, because maybe you’ve heard a friend say something like: “I’ll get around to it someday?” but never does? Same emptiness here.

    The people who do end up recording their flashes of brilliance are able to expand on them later: witness the tide of Internet phenomena, on “tape” for the whole world to see. And even on a personal level, you can work through life’s problems more effectively with a sense of perspective, and there’s no more reliable way than keeping a journal — so you can clearly refer to adversity you dealt with before, and stay on track with ambitions you’ve got up ahead.

    So why is “humor” important here? Because jokes ease idea transmission; you’re more likely to remember amusing conversations than boring ones. Most people get more impact out of 30-secnd prank videos than 2-hour C-SPAN snorefests.

    The Joker knows the value of capturing his ideas: for example, he takes cruel pictures to taunt Commissioner Gordon in The Killing Joke. And while I certainly don’t recommend going down that dark path, having tools to document your genius will lead to your future self thanking the present you. It can be as simple as a paper notepad, or a PDA. In fact, our own Dustin Wax wrote a great article recently, “Back to Basics: Capture Your Ideas“.

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    Pick a strong color scheme!

    Quick, what colors do you think of when the Joker comes to mind? Chances are it’s predominantly green and purple. (Incidentally, my fave colors are green and pink like a neon watermelon, and it’s helped me many times.)

      If the Joker was, say, orange and yellow, you might as well blurt out, “That’s not the Joker!” This principle is true of superheroes and world flags — colors are associated with certain things, and also help ease idea transmission.

      Here, “Pick a strong color scheme!” means to apply this whenever appropriate. If you’re setting up a new blog to capture your ideas, consider the tones and tints used your theme. If you’re organizing files in folders, color-coding can help you distinguish between them faster. If you’re dressing up for a night at the club, colors again come into play. Be coordinated — but don’t take every color of the rainbow: 2-4 solid colors will do.

      For further exploration on this path, see my personal scheme as featured on Kuler and COLOURlovers. The latter even has a list of Joker-inspired schemes — colors, not ways to rob a bank.

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      Catchphrases count!

      I covered this last week, and it’s important to bring up again: people have finite time, attention, and memory. If you can easily embed yourself into someone’s head (and pleasantly, I’m hoping), you can have a better relationship because they remember you. You’d rather be called upon by name than thought of as, “Uh… who’s that guy/girl again?”.

      The Joker has many notable quotables. Just about every incarnation has a catchy saying. Some of them, like the meme-birthing “Why so serious?” (currently with almost 1.3 million Google hits and a Facebook app), have been used to market The Dark Knight and accelerate the film’s popularity. Others are much longer and not fit for printing in a single dialog bubble, but are unmistakably part of the Joker’s identity.

      Don’t use catchphrases as a cheap joke: do use them to extend your identity and build interest in the rest of you. Like the Joker’s calling cards left at crime scenes, catchphrases create curiosity.

      HA HA HA… I hope that’s given you something to laugh and learn about — now, tell me, what otherwise deplorable, fictional characters have you learned life lessons from?

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      The Gentle Art of Saying No

      The Gentle Art of Saying No

      No!

      It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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      But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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      What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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      But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

      1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
      2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
      3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
      4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
      5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
      6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
      7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
      8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
      9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
      10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

      Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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