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04 November, 2006

No, Seriously

Have you ever heard someone say of someone else that ‘he’s a serious person’? I’ve come across the phrase a few times in the past few years. It is always spoken by a senior executive or high-ranking politician and always refers to another senior exec or politician. I’ve often pondered this quality of ‘seriousness’ that they seem to see in one another (and, by implication, do not see in other people.) Indeed, I am aware, from my various encounters with CEOs and political leaders and the like, that they clearly do not think that I am a ‘serious man’. But, since I am extremely serious about almost everything – to the point of being uncomfortably intense – the quality is clearly nothing to do with seriousness in any sense that I normally use the word.

I used to think it simply referred to some quality like gravitas that such people possess. Now, I know I haven’t got gravitas. I tend to be glib. I smile a lot. I like to be friendly and accommodating. So that’s possible but, as I have come across the phrase in more contexts, I doubt that this is what is meant. Although the people who use the phrase like to cultivate an air of gravitas, I think this is just because they feel that the people ‘under’ them wouldn’t respect them if they acted like ordinary people. And that is probably true, people being what they are.

So I turned my attention to what the people who call each other ‘serious people’ have in common and I think I’ve finally worked it out. The people who use the phrase are typical of their type. They are the self-interested, sociopathic types – all men – who push and bully, grab and scheme their way to the top. Typical leaders, of course, but ones who are, perhaps, just a bit more of all these things than their fellows. What they really mean by ‘serious person’ is ‘someone like us’, someone who also likes to gather power to themselves, someone who is also a player in their games of pushing and shoving, someone they can deal with and understand, who has the same values, who could be helpful – or dangerous – to them. That is, someone that they need to take seriously – as a threat, or a collaborator.

Now that I’ve worked it out, I’m glad that these people don’t think I’m a serious person. I wouldn’t want to be mistaken for one of them.

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