Learning To Enjoy The Long, Strange Trip…

I just flew in from Chicago, and boy, are my arms tired.

I’ve also been drowning my immune system with every kind of natural booster I can legally find… because, like a window shopper passively watching a store display mannequin fall over and break into pieces, I’ve been watching my health take hit after hit during the past few weeks of heavy stress and unpleasant surprises.

I’m running as fast as I can, just a few steps ahead of an immune system red-alert crisis.

Good to be home for a break in the action. Where I can sleep in, hide from the world, and regroup. I think I’m gonna be fine.

I just wanted to share an interesting thing that’s been happening — whenever I’m around marketing people (as I was at the Chicago seminar) I get asked about what I “got” from hanging out with Gary Halbert all those years.

Of course, the real answer will be book-length.

But in the interim, I find that each time I answer that question… I answer it differently.

This is a small tribute, all in itself, to the quality of the man. He shared so much with me, and I took away so many good lessons… that I can just rattle on about the first thing that pops into my head, and it’s always a worthwhile topic.

And one I can go on and on about for an hour, if no one shuts me up.

That book I write is gonna be a barn-burner.

Right now, for example, recovering from one trip and getting ready to fly down to LA for Gary’s memorial service, I find all kinds of things in the current news that Gary and I would have spent hours talking about on the phone. We both embraced the essential silliness of trying to life with any kind of real dignity… given the fact that nothing EVER went according to plan.

And we both loved to explore the weird basic nature of people in general. As salesmen, we jumped on every shred of consumer psychology we could find… but we augmented that knowledge with tidbits other marketers usually ignored. (My Google home page on Explorer even includes a “Weird News of the World” add-on, so I’m always hip to the latest whackiness.)

Why care about the strangeness of people? Because — as P.T. Barnum once said — you can never go broke underestimating the greed and foolishness of your fellow humans.

So, in honor of Gary, here is just one recent tidbit that would have had both of us shaking our heads in amused shock: According to the AP wire service (April 30), villagers in Guyana, South America, lynched an old woman they accused of being a vampire.

As a modern guy, you can look back on the stories about witches from Europe (more or less documented in tales by the Brothers Grimm) and the Salem executions of same in America as a quaint example of how ignorant people “used” to be.

However, anyone who studies human nature — and all advertisers and marketers should be doing this, in depth — knows that no evil or stupid tendency EVER goes away in our species.

To truly understand people, you must look at their dark sides. Many “civilized” folks suffer from an insulated existence, where all their friends and colleagues exhibit mostly rational behavior. And so it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing “that can’t happen here”.

Thus, when tragedies like the Virginia Tech shootings occur, the nation recoils in horror and engages in group therapy to find the “cause”. Someone, or some thing, needs to be held accountable.

You know… so we can “stop” it from ever happening again.

Savvy people-watchers know better. It has ever been thus — in spite of all the whiz-bang technology, in spite of science and medical advances and space travel… we are still not that far from the jungle.

Scratch a high-functioning, rich, good-looking and respected CEO… and you’ll find, just under the veneer, a 3rd grader at recess. With all the immaturity, selfishness and social cluelessness that implies.

People operate on mostly-unconscious, emotional, hormone-fueled motivations. We like to pretend we’re rational, super-effective and centered beings… but an honest reality check shows that isn’t the case.

Gary and I never despaired over the constant reminders that our fellow citizens were unpredictable, semi-crazed, half-asleep zombies capable of acting with outrageous greed and ugly aggression.

Instead, we just continued to look at life and other people as realistically as possible… and to incorporate our observations into as rational a world-view as we could manage.

It’s always going to be a long, strange trip. You cannot avoid the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune… but you can learn to enjoy the ride anyway.

It’s easy to say you love people, when you’re in deep denial about how grotesque things can turn out.

It’s a challenge to actually continue to love people as much as you can, when the dark side keeps elbowing out the nice stuff for center stage.

Nevertheless, we both truly loved the human race, and thoroughly enjoyed the often-painful discovery process of facing up to reality every day.

And that’s just one small thing I owe to Gary — because he shared my views on this, and we got to indulge in the horror-filled astonishment of examining the follies of the world. We always tried to find some useful lesson. We always tried to better understand what it was like to walk in the other guy’s shoes.

I will dearly miss those grisly, laugh-at-death discussions for the rest of my days.

And, to the best of my ability, I will carry on, and enjoy the trip anyway.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

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  • Darwin says:

    Well said John,
    As usual you have your own unique outlook on life. I totally agree with your perspective, The human behaviors make life interesting and give us more to think about and write about. Though often results of the behavior are tradgic.

    I believe we all have a bit of animal in us lurking just below the surface. When watching National Geographic or Discovery I see things that remind me of human nature events that I see or read in the news. One difference in the animal world though is that predator and prey seem to live in harmony. The buffalo does not judge the lion but acknowledges and respects it.

    I look forward to reading your book when you publish it. YOur rememberances of experiences with a unique individual who has touched thousans of lives will be interesting reading.

    Take a rest and get your batteries recharged.

  • Ryan says:

    Dear John,

    I have read every issue of your blog and I have NEVER commented before today.

    Please, Please, Please, Please write that book.


  • Lara says:


    Thanks for the brilliant post..as per usual. I appreciate that you share your insights.

    And yes, please publish that book! A barn-burner it would be for sure!

    All the best,

    Lara Kay Loest

  • John, thank you for your wisdom, insight and the patience to have your own blog!

    I have been studying copy, advertising on online marketing for about 5 years now, and am now a freelance graphic designer/ copywriter.

    Mixing these two worlds is a pleasure for me and I need all the advice I can get.

    Feel free, if you have time or want to, to visit my blog at http://www.songsblog.com
    or shoot me an email at lchiles@gmail.com.

    I don’t mean to be forward or disrespect your time in any way.

    Thanks again,

    Lawton Chiles
    Chiles Design

  • PS- I was saddened to hear about Gary’s passing. My thoughts go out to his famly during this time. And, to you too John b/c it seems you both were very close.

  • Brian Ankner says:

    Great post John, I laughed, I cried, I wet myself. Thanks.

    Only you can bring eloquence to someones passing.

    I’m on one of your lists so when you finish that book let us know!

  • Anderson Au says:

    Right on the money, and a no bs tell it like it is style

    Always good

    I won’t forget that day at Lutherin Hope, for what Gary was, and did in service to all of us through his lectures, stories, lessons and him being who he was – I will remember that day for perhaps decades to come, and I believe I can say the same for those in attendence.

    I wish however, that this didn’t happen, not this soon but….lives of legends are always too short ….

    But I bet you, even now he’s kicking ass and taking names

    As for the post, well, all I have to say is that if it (the shooting) can happen there, it can happen anywhere so long as there are people or involves people. On the 11th, some idiot brought a Gun to my brother’s school (and it was where I went to years earlier) and they called the SWAT team.

    Luckily nothing happened and it was a BBgun~ still, if it can happen there, it can happen anywhere so long as it involves people.

    Take care John

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