Psychological games that people play : 2. The Clown / Jester



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For my first post on this series, please click here.

The term “jester” originates from an ancient profession in the Medieval Ages – a professional joker employed by the courts to entertain. Pleasing their lords and rulers through their laughter-inducing attire and hilarious behaviour, they can be considered to be the predecessor to today’s circus clowns. A primary difference between a jester and a circus clown is the extent which they evoke laughter and smiles. While the jester fully utilises the creativity of their minds through the use of music, stories, sounds and facial expressions, the clowns have streamlined the use of these tools, limiting it to merely facial expressions / make-up / balloons, as well as acrobatic and juggling acts. Nevertheless, the jester remains in the hearts of people throughout the ages, primarily due their unusual profession. One nagging thought that some have with regard to jesters is this: Why would one dedicate their lives to indulge in trivialities such as lighted-humour? Assuming that it is not due to unavoidable circumstances, one primary reason is probably due to this:

“One of the entities that is often associated with the jester is the portrayal of jesters as fools in tarot cards.  However, the clout and power that jesters hold in the courts cannot be underestimated for it was believed during the Medieval Ages that only the lowest men in the King’s Courts are able to advise the king on the matters of the state in a brash way through comical acts, which the royalties do not take offense. A common man or even a prominent and distinguished minister would probably meet their untimely demise through hanging, or soon have their heads under the guillotine should they seek to do the same thing.”

This immunity of the jester has stayed with them throughout the ages,  progressing and metamorphosing into the present day circus clown However, this blog post will make little mention of clowns as they- while widely and popularly entertaining – serves minimal social function in real life interpersonal communication – an aspect that this blog post is focused on. Instead, let’s turn our attention to an average Joe on the streets – to any person who initiates and exhibits the traits and characteristics of a jester.

It is not hard to spot such individuals.

They are often the life of the party, the person who spice up a quiet crowd in the room by eliciting laughter through some hilarious acts. Self-deprecating humour, a sarcastic dig at someone, a mischievous grin followed by a witty remark after an embarrassing incident at the social event, as well as having one of the loudest voices define them. As they often are rapturous by nature, few take offense to their, well, minor transgressions such as the overstepping of social boundaries by getting too close to someone in conversation, or their occasional nudging at someone to urge them to give up a secret.

“Almost everything they do are forgiven, and almost always forgotten – for their nonchalant attitude and light-hearted humour often make everything seems all right.   A cheeky wink at us. A childish grin that almost always brighten our days. Everything is forgiven..for the human soul often forgives a slight when an offensive is tapered with light-hearted humour. But it’s precisely this attitude of theirs that they are able to extract secrets and information from others covertly, for while humans are immune to rude behaviours by putting up defenses of steel, we often soften and are almost always fallible to flattery, compliments, affectionate gestures and praises – when they lavished abundantly upon us. It is not surprising that flattery remains as one of the most omnipotent tools employed by seducers and sycophants throughout the ages. “

Putting ourselves in the role of jesters lightens people up, makes them smile and laugh, tensions disappear and rapport are built quickly. Humour is the eternal antidote to defensiveness. That being said, playing the role of jesters to extract information and to ingratiate with others are sheer psychological manipulation, which are undesirable behaviours as they breach moralistic and ethical considerations.

While we can understand the powers of the jesters and protect ourselves against their intrusions, we should only allow ourselves to be one or the benefit of others, such as to diffuse tension in the room, or to brighten someone’s day. We should not use roles to achieve our ends but to bring benefits to someone else’s day, such as improving the dampening mood of a tour group after a trip to the national garden ends in a heavy downpour, or motivating team mates to do better when morale is low and dropping due to setbacks and obstacles yet to be overcome.

“Such is the power of roles but they are and will always be a double-edged sword. Hence, we can and should only use it positively to benefit others and ourselves.”


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Alter ego of the Clown / Jester:

The Machiavellian / Narcissist

Played to the extreme within the context of self-interest, the role of the Clown / Jester could easily escalate into that of power-loving enthusiasts, eager at seizing every opportunity to gain power and ingratiate themselves into the power-loving crowd. There is a reason why the primary villain in Gotham City is a joker, and why the Chinese have often labelled opportunists and power lovers who acquired their aims through joviality and triviality as “smiling tigers” (笑面虎).

Long have our forebears learn the power of the smile, which can be used to soothe, but it can also be used to seduce and manipulate. Healers use it, but cheaters employ it too. The difference lies in the intention of the smile. Is it directed inwards, so as to achieve the aims of what wants to attain (i.e. the “What’s in it for me” mentality)? Or is it directed outwards, so as to enable others to relate well to oneself and their environment?

The Clown / Jester, when the role is played right, serves as a beacon in the world, brightening and livening up the world and throwing the darkness back with its lightness of smile and heartiness of laughter. However, when the role of the Clown / Jester is marred by the blemishes of self-centeredness, it will gradually escalates negatively in a downward spiral into the role of the “The Machiavellian / Narcissist“, where power and manipulation is the primary driving force behind the individuals in the role.

Hence, when playing the role of the Clown / Jester, we must be very mindful of our intentions, and never allow the idea of self-aggrandisement to stand in the way of the betterment of humanity.

Seek, always, to be the light that drives away the darkness, and never the darkness that consumes the night.

In the next blog post, we will look at the role of the Sage, a role prevalent among the knowledge-focused industries, such as the education and research sectors.


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