Some years ago I read an article in The Good Weekend magazine, the one that comes with the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturdays, about Billy Connolly. The article contained a paragraph about Billy’s younger days, a childhood that included much unhappiness and severe abuse by his father. Nonetheless he managed to stay positive and to retain a sense of humour, possibly a survival mechanism. In the article he mentioned an incident and the positive spin that it has given him, something that resonated with me. I have since spoken of it to various people and have also quoted it to clients. The philosophy behind it is not unique – many others have said that no matter how bad things get, it is better than being dead, or that there is always someone worse off – but no one manages to express it so memorably as Billy Connolly.
Before quoting that item, I might mention that I am also reminded of a cartoon I had for many years but has been lost with the passage of time. It showed a man with his arm in a sling, bruises on his face and some bandaids. He is speaking to a woman standing in front of him. The words at the base of the cartoon, spoken by the man, are “I have an alternative psychiatrist. He slaps you around and tells you to pull yourself together.”
The Good Weekend extract is printed below, thanks to Liz Cooper-Smith of that magazine who tracked down the item at my request and organised permission to reprint it:
Billy Connolly likes to date his enduring optimism to his days in the shipyards of Glasgow, where he worked as a welder from the ages of 16 to 24.
One day, he says, he went to buy a packet of cigarettes from Tam, the chain-smoking old worker who ran the company store:
"He started to cough. It was like a storm building up - a thundering storm from miles away. He ended up with these noises that sounded like a platoon of cavalry galloping through a swamp in wellingtons full of vomit. Then it came to an end; all calmed down. I says, 'Jesus, Tam, that's some cough. He says, 'F... off!' He says, 'Did you pass the graveyard on the way in here?' I says, 'Aye.' He says, 'Well, the graveyard's full of people that would f...ing love my cough.'
And that's basically my philosophy: if you think you're having a bad time, the graveyard's full of people who would love to be doing what you're doing."