William S Gilbert has blessed us with a witty illustration of an important legal principle. This reality is so compelling that it is vital everyone come to understand it. However, most people think it is a mere trifle, such as was created by the said Gilbert in his script for The Mikado.
In my school days I was privileged to play the character part of Pooh-Bah in a school production of The Mikado. I loved the character and the audiences were very encouraging in their responses. I was invited to join an amateur drama society on the strength of that part.
The town of Titipu had a Lord High Executioner. All other official roles were performed by Pooh-Bah, who was known as Lord High Everything Else!
Because Pooh-Bah held many official offices he was able to assume the various personas according to the need of the moment. This, however, became quite tricky when the various roles required contrary means of dealing with the same thing.
William Gilbert created a lovely scene where the Lord High Executioner, Koko, asked for Pooh-Bah’s counsel on his plans for his coming wedding. I loved playing this scene and I will share the script with you here.
People and Personas
Each of us wears a range of hats during our life and frequently at the same time. We usually don’t have problems with the various roles we fill, but sometimes our various personas can create difficulties.
Consider a married man with a family. He is son to his parents, husband to his wife, father to his children, employee to his boss, citizen in his nation, and neighbour in his community. He may also play sport, be in a church congregation, be member of a club, and so on.
Such a man may have difficulty pleasing his boss and his wife at the same time. His promises to his children could be disturbed by his need to respond to his parents’ health challenges. His love for jamming with his band in his garage may put him at odds with his neighbours.
Each of us has to manage our various personas, and so this post is an introduction to the topic, using dear old Pooh-Bah as our illustration.
KoKo. “Pooh-Bah, it seems that the festivities in connection with my approaching marriage must last a week. I should like to do it handsomely, and I want to consult you as to the amount I ought to spend upon them.”
Pooh-Bah. “Certainly. In which of my capacities? As First Lord of the Treasury, Lord Chamberlain, Attorney General, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Privy Purse, or Private Secretary?”
KoKo. “Suppose we say as Private Secretary.”
Pooh-Bah. “Speaking as your Private Secretary, I should say that, as the city will have to pay for it, don’t stint yourself, do it well.”
KoKo. “Exactly–as the city will have to pay for it. That is your advice.”
Pooh-Bah. “As Private Secretary. Of course you will understand that, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, I am bound to see that due economy is observed.”
KoKo. “Oh! But you said just now ‘Don’t stint yourself, do it well’.”
Pooh-Bah. “As Private Secretary.”
KoKo. “And now you say that due economy must be observed.”
Pooh-Bah. “As Chancellor of the Exchequer.”
KoKo. “I see. Come over here, where the Chancellor can’t hear us. (They cross the stage.) Now, as my Solicitor, how do you advise me to deal with this difficulty?”
Pooh-Bah. “Oh, as your Solicitor, I should have no hesitation in saying ‘Chance it—‘”
KoKo. “Thank you. (Shaking his hand.) I will.”
Pooh-Bah. “If it were not that, as Lord Chief Justice, I am bound to see that the law isn’t violated.”
KoKo. “I see. Come over here where the Chief Justice can’t hear us. (They cross the stage.) Now, then, as First Lord of the Treasury?”
Pooh-Bah. “Of course, as First Lord of the Treasury, I could propose a special vote that would cover all expenses, if it were not that, as Leader of the Opposition, it would be my duty to resist it, tooth and nail. Or, as Paymaster General, I could so cook the accounts that, as Lord High Auditor, I should never discover the fraud. But then, as Archbishop of Titipu, it would be my duty to denounce my dishonesty and give myself into my own custody as first Commissioner of Police.”
KoKo. “That’s extremely awkward.”
Pooh-Bah. “I don’t say that all these distinguished people couldn’t be squared; but it is right to tell you that they wouldn’t be sufficiently degraded in their own estimation unless they were insulted with a very considerable bribe.”
KoKo. “The matter shall have my careful consideration. But my bride and her sisters approach, and any little compliment on your part, such as an abject grovel in a characteristic Japanese attitude, would be esteemed a favour.”
Pooh-Bah. “No money, no grovel!”
I trust you enjoyed that lovely piece of creative fun, but remember the issue at stake here. People have multiple personas. That’s something of more significance to us than you might have thought.
Take notice of the reality and make a mental list of your own existence as the owner of multiple personas. In future posts we will dig into the subject a little deeper and look for the personal and legal lessons which spring from this reality.
Meanwhile, try this homework. Write a list of all the ‘persons’ which you are or have been in your life. Think about your family connections, your work situations, your social links, your church, club and hobby associations, your national, state and community responsibilities and any other situations in which you have a special persona.
Now think about how some of those connections and persons could end up in tension. How would you resolve that tension?
If you’ve had a personal experience of being trapped by your competing personas you might like to share that with others, by adding a note to this post.
And keep your eye out for People and Persons, the second instalment in this series.