Friday, October 07, 2011

Everyone Mad Libs

The only people who don't like Mad Libs are the people who don't know what they are. And Nazi's. 

So for all of the unfortunately misinformed, and for all of the short evil dictators with little mustaches out there, this is the idea behind Mad Libs:

Each page of a Mad Lib book is a different story. The stories can be about anything, sometimes they are random and sometimes they are collected around a theme.

As each story progresses beyond "Once upon a time..." various words in each sentence are missing, and in their place is a blank to be filled in. Under the line is a description of the type of word required: noun, adjective, past tense verb, etc. By filling in the various words one gets to recreate the story.

What makes Mad Libs fun comes from the fact that you don't just sit there and fill in the blanks by yourself. What normally happens is that one person, normally a school teacher or a lucky nostalgic person who owns a Mad Lib booklet, stands in front of the group and goes through each blank:  

"Ok, I need a Proper Name."  
"Now give me an action verb."
"Now we need a color and then an adjective."  

Once the blanks are all filled in then the teacher goes back and reads through the story with the provided words. 

What normally would have been:  
I walk through the jungle. I take out my green canteen. There's a parrot with a big banana in his mouth right in front of me in the green trees.  

Turns into this masterpiece:  
I duck-walk through the jungle. I take out my gross canteen. There's a pterodactyl with a smelly fart in his mouth right in front of me in the moldy trees.  

I don't know how Mad Libs started, no clue on the legend's origin. My assumption is that there was an elementary school teacher somewhere who had the creative light bulb go on with a way to get kids thinking through the grammatical principles she was struggling to convey. Who knew it would turn into easy comedy.
What I do know is that everyone Mad Libs. Everyone!
  • You see a parent in the store getting ticked at her kid. Fill in the blank.
  • You see that the email you were expecting within an hour isn't there. Fill in the blank.
  • You hear a couple is having marital problems. Fill in the blank.
  • You see someone with a "I Love Jesus" shirt on. Fill in the blank.
  • You see two dudes walking down the street holding hands. Fill in the blank.
  • You see a skinny teenager with skinner jeans on, piercings, and emo look on his face. Fill in the blank.
  • You wait 20 minutes past the meeting's start for your co-worker to show up. Fill in the blank.
  • You hear that a couple broke up suddenly. Fill in the blank.
  • You see a homeless person about to ask you for money. Fill in the blank.
There is always a proverbial blank that needs to be filled in. Every situation has them. Most of us take it upon ourselves to provide the answer. We interpret the situation off the cuff and create the story from our point of view. But what happens many times when we provide the answers is that we create a convoluted version of the story not based in reality. And unfortunately, the story reiterations made by our provided words are rarely funny.

When we come to any situation where a blank can be filled in, two things happen:

First, we have to fill in that blank! It's like we're marines about it - no blank left behind! We WILL provide a word, we WILL assume that our word is correct, and then we WILL interact with or respond to the person accordingly. It's interesting that many people can't allow blanks to remain open for awhile. What needs to be realized is that just because details aren't known to us doesn't mean that the story is incomplete. The people around us are already works in progress (as we are). It would be better to not fill in blanks, but instead discover what word is already present.

Second, our default is to provide a negative word. As consistently as junior highers picking "belch" or "fart" for action verbs over "jump" or "run," we will always pick a negative word over a positive. Always! Sure, we'll attempt amends by adding, "Well, let's give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they're not like that." But that's just a nice way of saying, "You'll have to prove to me that I'm wrong." The truth is, there is always the thing underneath the thing. What we see on the outside isn't always an accurate representation of what is going on inside or of what happened before we came on the scene. We never consider what might really be happening, what word might actually already be in the blank.
  • We provide LAZY, never considering UNDER-CHALLENGED.
  • We provide ANGRY, never considering HURT.
  • We provide JUDGMENTAL, never considering CARING.
  • We provide HYPOCRITE, never considering REGRETFUL FAILURE.
  • We provide FORGETFUL, never considering OVERWHELMED
  • We provide HOPELESS, never considering POTENTIAL
Just because you can't see a word doesn't mean it isn't present. Until you have a real conversation with the person, a genuine interaction, then the words you provide in the blanks might not be accurate. They just might be hurtful, demotivating, or damaging. This leads to the hardest pill to swallow in considering our Mad Lib'ing: the words we choose are actually more defining of us then the person we are applying them to.

There solution is really quite easy: allow the person to fill in the blanks

To do this you have to not go with your gut reaction.
To do this you have to withhold your words.
To do this you have to invest some time.
To do this you have to get to know a person.
To do this you have to embrace patience, grace, and compassion.
To do this you have to pray that God shows you how He see them.

It makes for a better story.

When we fill in the blanks for Mad-Libs the stories are pretty darn funny. 
When we allow others to fill in the blanks of their lives the stories become pretty darn beautiful.

Who is someone that you've filled in the blanks for?

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up,
as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.  Eph 4:29

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:1-5

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:13-15

PS - if your response to this blog post is to talk about how judgmental other people are, then you missed the ENTIRE point.  =)

PSS - I apologize to any Nazi out there who read this and was offended by my gibe at the beginning.

No comments: