The noble art of losing face

During 1986, the International Year of Peace, I was inspired by creative friends to explore clowning as a way of communicating the importance of peace-making to a world that desperately needed to make peace at all levels. I became “Peppo the Global Lifesaver” whose mission was to save the world by encouraging peaceful resolution of conflict in people of all ages.

1 Peppo

In 1988 I came across the wonderful saying of Piet Hein “The noble art of losing face may one day save the human race.” Pien Hein was a Danish philosopher, scientist, mathematician, designer, author and poet.

To lose face, a person needs to be able to admit they are wrong and sadly this is something that many of us find great difficulty in doing. This is true at the international level where national leaders  have started wars to “save face”and at the personal level where  relationships break down when people are unable to admit they are wrong.

In the intervening 30 years I have actively sought to lose face in all sorts of ways and have had lots of fun in doing so. At the 1994 Woodford Folk Festival, I discovered that wonderful musical instrument the kazoo, and since then have been part of three kazoo bands that have given hundreds of people the opportunity to lose face with me.

In 1996 we formed the JCU Kazoos whose mission was to “lose face” in an environment where people can take themselves way too seriously. One wonderful memory was the 1997 JCU Open Day  when 76 members of the university community including professors, senior administrators, teaching staff, professional staff and students performed the JCU Kazoo Tattoo in true Edinburgh style.

19 woodford

In a similar spirit “of losing face” the Amnesty International Kazoo band was invited to perform at the 2003 Woodford Folk Festival and was a great hit with attendees at the festival.

Several months ago I decided find more out about this saying and its author Piet Hein. It is taken from a longer poem:

The noble art of losing face my some day save the human race
and turn into eternal merit what weaker minds would call disgrace.

Piet Hein was the author of many such short cryptic poems – called “gruk” in Danish. In fact he composed more than 10,000 gruks both in Danish and English and these are published in many volumes.

Another gruk I love:

Living is
a thing you do
now or never —
which do you?

As indicated in my introduction Piet Hein was a person of many talents. In 1959 traffic planners in Stockholm came to Piet Hein with a knotty problem. As part of the redevelopment of the centre of Stockholm they needed to design an intersection of two major motorways but the space available did not allow for a roundabout – the usual solution.

7 Sergels_torg-Stockholm-DSC_0115w

Piet Hein went away modelled the problem and came back with his solution – the superellipse. The superellipse has since been used in furniture design in many applications requiring the best use of available space. Piet Hein is also the designer of many games and puzzles.

I have been invited to share my thoughts on this saying and its author Piet Hein this week at PechaKucha Townsville. PechaKucha is a style of presentation where each presenter displays a total of 20 slides and has 20 seconds to speak to each slide – a total of seven minutes all up. It promises to be an interesting evening with eight topics on a wide range of topics.

Might see you there on Wednesday.


About peterhanley1

Peter Hanley has lived in North Queensland for more than 30 years. His interests include human rights, social justice, sustainability and community development. True North explores issues in these areas.
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