When the U.S. voted in their first leader, George Washington, nobody could agree on his title. Popular choices included “Your Highness” or “Your Excellency”. Congress didn’t like that. They didn’t want something that gave their leader an inflated sense of ego or ideas of monarchy. But at the same time, they were concerned other countries would not take them seriously.
A political gridlock ensued for three weeks. In the end, congress settled on a “temporary” solution using the lowest, least-impressive title they could think of — President. Hard to believe today.
There are two lessons from this:
1. A “temporary” solution will likely become the “final” solution
2. Names do not bestow power; power changes how we see names
These were the very thoughts circulating in my mind as my colleagues voted in our new team name — ‘Running Chicken’. Who would take a team called ‘Running Chicken’ seriously?
To be fair though, it’s a bit funny. And at least more memorable than something like the ‘Data Ingestion Team’ (no offence guys). Question was, how much should I really worry about this?
The ‘Running Chicken Nebula’ that inspired our choice protested attention; individualism in a way a name like ‘Oyster Nebula’ could not. The joke was in picking a name that obeyed the rules but opposed the spirit of the exercise. Satisfying my ego rather than thinking of the wider benefits for the group.
Philosopher Henry Berson believed that laughter at its core is ultimately a message to other people. He thought that once you can get people to LAUGH at something, they never can take that thing quite as seriously ever again.
Comedy is probably one of the most powerful tools we have to speak truth to power. Compared with other emotions, humour’s influence in combating injustice is massively underrated. It is enough to make some dictators lock up their opponents¹.