Monday, March 05, 2007

The Art of Applied Irony

True redemption is an endangered species. The famous saying “nice guys finish last” is all too often an accurate description of reality. People who are willing to do anything to achieve their goals, more often than not, succeed. Machiavellian means allow the ruthless to dominate, and alas, the nice guys do finish last.

But at times, history takes an ironic turn. The bad guys, dominant and powerful, take a fall, and good guys learn how to finish first.

A classic of redemptive irony is the Book of Esther. Nothing in this book is the way it appears to be. The powerful turn out to be weak, and the weak turn out to be powerful.

Redemption in the Book of Esther takes place through applied irony. The characters, through their various actions, bring about the outcome themselves. Irony is not a cosmic joke; it is a human art, one which we all can use to change the world.

Here are two basic laws to the art of applied irony:

1. Don’t be Arrogant:

Haman wants people to bow to him. Haman thinks he can commit genocide without anyone noticing. Haman thinks he can just kill Mordechai. Haman thinks he’s the only person the Ahasuerus cares about. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Overreaching, with an overinflated ego, Haman is a poster boy for the failures of arrogance.

Arrogance has caused ironic reversal after ironic reversal. Armies that think they’re powerful, and secure behind impenetrable fortresses (like, say, the Maginot Line) are shocked to find out their enemies can be innovative. Or that their armies are weaker than they think.

Businesses can be arrogant. Dominant players think they can simply coast with conservative strategies. They forget my friend Seth Godin’s admonition: “safe is risky”.

Don’t be arrogant. If you are, tragic irony is sure to follow.

2. Find Your Voice

Esther, the heroine of this story, starts out meek and demure, very befitting for the wife of an Emperor 2,500 years ago. Keeping quiet is her specialty, and she really doesn’t say a word for the first half of the book. When Mordechai asks her to help save the Jews, she is too afraid to do anything.

But then she changes. Esther finds her own voice. She realize that she has the power, and that she must use it. She refuses to sit back. For the second half of the Book, Esther doesn’t stop talking.

Esther finds her voice. Ironic redemption follows. Nice guys need to open their mouths, because in actuality, the meek do not inherit the earth.

Pride preceeds a fall”, and sincere assertiveness brings about genuine change. From a nuclear Iran to drafting a business plan, we can use the art of applied irony to transform the world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love the concept of Applied Irony especially when related to nice guys finishing first, for a change. However, I often struggle with the very two points you mentioned. In finding ones voice and power to make a difference, how does one avoid becomming arrogant or being perceived as arrogant?