After Paul Arden’s funeral, I was talking to Roy Dickenson.
Roy was a friend of Paul’s and we were standing in the garden of Paul and Toni’s cottage.
Funerals are times to think about things you don’t think about in normal day-to-day life.
Thoughts turn naturally to life and death.
Roy was telling me a story about his time in the army.
He’d been one of the last generation to be called-up, conscription ended in 1960.
Until then, when you reached 18 you went in the army for two years.
You weren’t professional soldiers, just young men in uniforms with guns.
I don’t remember the exact details, but Roy had been sent to one of the trouble spots around the world, probably somewhere in the middle east.
He was telling me that on a particular day his squad had been involved in a firefight.
They’d come under surprise attack and there was no cover to hide in.
Roy hit the ground as bullets crashed everywhere around him and flew all over him.
Roy just lay there waiting to get hit.
Trying to make himself as small as possible, but not having a foxhole to get into.
Just waiting for a bullet to hit him in the head or the chest.
He said, at that point he vividly remembered watching an insect in the sand.
It was just crawling around, going about its business.
And his strongest memory was, in that instant he would have given anything to change places with that insect.
The insect wasn’t going to get hit by a bullet, no one was trying to shoot the insect.
The insect was outside the war and the guns and the killing.
All the bullets flying about were just more noise as far as the insect was concerned.
The noise could have been a truck full of squaddies on their way into town to find some beer and some girls.
Or it could have been a truck full of heavily armed rebels on their way to kill squaddies.
Whatever it was it was it was all the same to the insect.
The war wasn’t the insect’s world so it didn’t have to care about it.
The insect existed in another world, a world away from all of that.
And Roy repeated that while he was hunched up waiting for a bullet to hit him, his strongest memory was he’d have given anything to change places with that insect.
Then Roy and I just stood quietly in Paul and Toni’s garden for a bit.
And just as Roy never forgot that incident, I never forgot Roy’s story.
It seemed inconceivable to me that anyone could ever want to change places with an insect.
It just didn’t make any sense to me.
But for Roy, his feelings, sheer stark terror, had far outweighed his ability to reason.
And there’s no doubt, fear will outweigh rational thought.
In some cases, emotion is stronger than logic.
But there’s the crucial qualifier: “in some cases”.
In our business, no one ever likes to include that part.
Because including “in some cases” means we have to stop and think.
We have to consider each case on its merits.
It’s easier to assume that the formula is true in all cases: “emotion is stronger than logic”.
Job done: we can safely assume that’s an inviolable truth.
That way we don’t have to think, it’s like algebra, we’ve reduced it to a simple equation.
And that seems to be the goal of advertising today, replace all thought with algorithms.
So that we don’t need to think.
We can just switch off and react.
Which, to be fair, is a bit like swapping places with an insect.