Tour Guides

Watching an HBO special Talking Funny with Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Louis C. K. I was impressed by their thoughtful and witty observations on what being funny is about, and how each of them has their own individual style of taking their audiences into their comedic realm.

The next morning as I resumed my rumination of what I had heard, the image that popped into my mind was that of a tour guide. It seemed to me that what they had been saying could be most vividly understood within the framework of that metaphor.

Each of them takes the audience on a tour of their inner comedic world and shows them the sights, sometimes odd and strange at first, but then with their safety assured by the skill and confidence of the guide, the audience begins to see what is familiar in what at first seemed so foreign.

I found this image both comforting and intriguing because as I settled into contemplating it I realized it had much broader and deeper application.

The first iteration produced the thought that perhaps all art functions in the same way; that is, the artist in whatever medium, takes the viewer or listener, or reader on a guided tour of his/her artistic world. And when successful, the audience goes through a process similar to that already described. What is initially experienced as different evolves into a mix of the new and the familiar.

The next iteration produced the recollection of learnings from educational psychology which makes the point that we learn new ideas by linking that which is familiar about them to what we already know. Without that available link, we do not learn or understand the new material.

The next to last link was to the way we talk with each other and share the details of our separate lives as we try to establish relationships ranging from that of mutual respect and understanding to appreciation and intimacy. In conversation we can be said to be taking each other on guided tours of the ways and byways that structure our self understanding.

And the final link in this series brought me full circle to a place I have often visited in my explorations of ideas about  who and what we are. Based on an exchange between Bogart and a female character in one of his movies, this idea has rested comfortably in an armchair in the living room of my mind where it watches the world at work and play from a large, and not always clear window.

In the movie the woman is defending the poor behavior of her husband towards Bogart the night before. She says, “you must forgive my husband for his behavior last night; he wasn’t himself.”

Bogart looks at her for just a moment and then says, “Oh, who was he?”

Who are we, when we are not being ourselves? I consider that a question in form only. We are always ourselves, maybe not always our “best” selves, but our selves nevertheless. And in our encounters with each other we are always taking each other on a tour of who and what we are; the demonstration may not be kind, may not even be informative in the way we want it to be. But it does show who we are; we are always tour guides for each other. Even in “costume” we are the owners of our roles.


  1. Joyful Days · · Reply

    I’ve been reading through your blog and appreciate your insight. After reading the entry, “Tour Guides” and thinking about who I am and my personal relationships with others, it got me thinking about my “best self.” When taking someone on the tour of who and what you are, how can we avoid also giving them, whether they want to or not, a personal and unfair tour of our expectations. I’d love to hear your opinion on expectations in personal relationships. Thanks for your time.

    1. We learn about expectations from our parents, and sibs, friends, and of course in school. And as long as those expectations seem to fit who we are, I think they can help us live into who we are becoming. In my mind, the problem arises when the expectations placed on us don’t fit us even though the person placing the expectations want them to.
      Personal example: when I was a kid, I was academically inclined and my folks wanted me to do well in school. No problem. When I went to collage on my four year scholarship my folks wanted me to take pre-med en route to becoming a doctor. Big problem. As it turned out in trying to do that I lost the scholarship and ended up on Scholastic probation. I took some test to find out what was going on and the upshot according to the examiner was that although I apparently had the intelligence to learn the material, he had never seen anyone with as low an interest in it make it all the way through. The old saying about a square peg in a round hole has real meaning.
      So, when taking someone on a tour of who you are, it seems reasonable to include your expectations for your life in that tour. It seems to me you run the risk of becoming unfair if you expect that person to meet your expectations. If someone tells me that they want to get to know me, than I think I am free to tell them about who I understand myself to be. But that doesn’t mean that after having taken the tour they are obligated to agree with me about who I think I am, or to even like me.
      There is, of course, always the option to preface any revelations with an inquiry: “Sometimes I wonder if my expectations about life and friends and relationships are realistic. Do you ever think about that kind of stuff?”
      That kind of question offers a lot of possible responses from an animated exchange of ideas on expections for the self and for others, to an acknowledgement of indifference regarding that concern and perhaps, a different direction in the conversation all together.
      I guess, what I am saying is simply this: while we are entitled to expect whatever we want to expect from ourselves, whether or not those expectations are realistic, the most we are entitled to expect from other people is
      that they bring themselves to the table with as much honesty as they can.

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