18 Jan What the Fresh Prince taught me about context.
I can’t remember a time I did not know the lyrics to the theme tune of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Throughout the early ’90s the song wormed its way into my ear, remaining in my head long after the show had finished.
And, kudos to the song’s composers, years later as my children grew up unaware of the origins of this piece of musical genius (heavy on the irony), we have on occasion found ourselves singing it to the kids, mock-rapping in the kitchen, initially thrilling and later totally embarrassing them.
Last week my ten year old discovered nearly 150 episodes of Will Smith at his sideways-cap wearing finest, causing trouble on Netflix. Another generation is humming the melody around the house.
All together …
“Now this is a story all about how, my life got flipped-turned upside down. And I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there. I’ll tell you how I became the Prince of a town called Bel-Air.”
But it was only today I realised the genius of this theme tune.
In this cheesy rap we are given all the information we need to understand the show, all the back-story we need for the jokes to make sense.
‘Will’ is a fish out of water. He was raised in ‘west Philadelphia’ not the wealthy, apparently refined Bel-Air, explaining why he doesn’t dress or talk the same as the rest of the family he is living with. He is different. He may not know which knife to use at dinner but he is clever in all the ways that matter. He is street-smart, and attractive and runs rings around his contemporaries, Carlton and Hilary.
This is the idea, the joke, at the heart of the show.
Without the context – the information captured in the theme tune and repeated before every episode – the show would not work.
Wouldn’t it be great if we were introduced by a theme tune every time we met someone, to alert people to our backstory?
Okay, maybe not our whole autobiography, but a few snippets of information that gave our behaviour today a little more context.
I wrote about this on Instagram today:
“Sometimes I wish I could give people the context to my behaviour and often I wish I could get the back story on people I meet. It could be very helpful and save a lot of misunderstanding and upset.”
Without knowing where someone is coming from it is easy to jump to the wrong conclusions about how they feel and why they are the way they are.
When I was in the white-hot heat of my battle with anxiety I know (friends have since told me) people often thought I was dismissive, or distant. I appeared to be ignoring them or, worst of all, came across as superior. Little did they know I was barely holding it all together, and keeping them at an arm’s length was my only way of staying in control and not running hell-for-leather back home to my bed to hide. I distanced people, avoided eye-contact and only half listened because I was using so much energy internally fighting the terror that threatened at any moment to envelope me.
When we are in pain it is difficult to be vulnerable.
And sometimes it is just not possible.
It is not appropriate to start every conversation with a quick update on our mental state.
(I mean, with friends – yes for sure, but maybe not with the man in the post-office).
So what are we to do? The only thing we can do.
This quote is over used and easily brushed over, but truth is truth.
Everyone is fighting a hard battle.
A battle to stay out of debt, a battle with depression, a battle for their marriage, a battle to survive the day with their pre-school children, a battle to be heard by their teenagers, a battle with their self-image, a battle to find peace in the chaos.
The world is a fabulous place, but it is also intrinsically and undeniably broken and therefore battling, on one front or another, is the norm – the state of play.
I’m trying to remember I do not know the theme tune which proceeds the people I come into contact with. I don’t know their context, their battle.
If I did it would help me to understand what is on their heart.
But as I don’t I will try and speak with compassion, to offer a gentle word or smile.
I will try and treat them with kindness and remember everyone else is just as fragile as I am.
And as I have now embedded that song in all of our brains, maybe we can use it as our prompt, our reminder.
We all need a bit of context.
“…In west Philadelphia born and raised
On the playground was where I spent most of my days
Chillin’ out maxin’ relaxin’ all cool
And all shootin some b-ball outside of the school
When a couple of guys who were up to no good
Started making trouble in my neighbourhood…”
(sorry, not sorry)