Tuesday, Jun 11, 2024

Of Pillars & Cream Puffs

“He’s a pillar of the community.” You’ve all heard the expression, and you’re all familiar with the image it conjures up. Someone solid, stable and dignified. Someone you can depend on. Someone who, like the stanchions of a building, supports the rest with his stately strength.

I’m sure that most of you have, at one time or another, had an encounter with a cream puff. For those unfortunates who have not yet had that pleasure, this is an airy confection that consists of a melt-in-your-mouth pastry filled with sweet custard or cream. What is the nutritional content of such a treat? Not much. While not exactly zero, it certainly comes close. The main thing that eating a cream puff contributes to one’s life is—enjoyment. And that, my friends, is no small thing.

Every family has its “pillar.” Even in a family made up of many pillar-types, there is usually one that stands out. She’ll be the person you know you can turn to at crunch time; the upholder of rules and traditions; the one who keeps things going. And, as everybody knows, it is important that things be kept going.

Whether in the small universe of a family or in the wider world outside, there are times when events seem to spiral out of control. Times when you want to throw your hands in the air and simply give up. The pillars of the world don’t let that happen. Their sense of responsibility won’t permit it. With calm, dogged persistence they work, either publicly or behind the scenes, to set things right again. They have a sense of how things should be and also of how to get there. In short, the pillar people keep the world spinning for the rest of us.

What are the cream-puff types doing while all this serious and vital stuff is taking place? Having fun, probably. Employing witticisms to make others laugh. Skimming light and frothy on the surface of life, like dragonflies over a pond. Their raison d’etre is not to lead, or build, or solve problems. Their primary mission is to sprinkle a bit of sweetness into the lives of those around them.

Think of the people you know. Taking into account that no one is all one thing or the other, which of them fit best into the “pillar” category and which ones have personalities that more closely resemble cream puffs? In other words, who in your life is staid, responsible and hard-working… and who flits from flower to flower like a butterfly, sipping the nectar and adding a dash of color for those around them to enjoy?


The extreme cases are easy to spot, since their outstanding characteristics are so obvious as to be difficult to miss. For instance, every class in school has its take-charge type, the student who tends to lead the way in any and every new project. No need to delegate authority to them; these natural-born “pillars” simply take it. Most of the time, those around them don’t mind this at all. If the pillars are willing to carry the weight for the rest of us, who are we to complain?

The cream puffs certainly don’t. Having others tend to the sober stuff leaves them free to do what they do best: lighten the atmosphere with their humor, fun-loving spirit and zest for life.

This can lead to a certain resentment on the part of those earnest, responsible pillars of society. They are doing the hard work, so why is everyone licking their lips over the cream puffs? The fact is, pillars, like broccoli, are good for you… but cream puffs taste good! You will sometimes find this attitude within the family dynamic: envy or resentment on the part of the pillar types over the way the cream-puffers in the family always seem to avoid shouldering their proper share of the burden. And the   way the others laugh indulgently and let them get away with it.

There is heightened emotion of another kind, when two pillars clash. Each of them is responsible, hard-working and dedicated. Each has his or her decided opinion as to how the job ought to be done. And each is grimly determined to have it done her way.

Cream puffers generally don’t clash, largely because they don’t care enough to get confrontational.  They are bored by rules and regimens and consistent, plodding toil. They tend to see the humor in situations and help those around them to do the same. Their strength is devising new ways to have fun: trips, games and adventures. Special treats to brighten and spice up the necessary responsibilities of life. Things to laugh about, to look forward to with anticipation and look back on with a smile.

Cream puffers need to learn to bear down, while pillars’ challenge is to lighten up. Maybe they have something to teach one another?


Since every individual is a tiny microcosm of society, each of us contains some pillar and some cream puff in our character makeup. There’s the part that draws up lists and schedules and actually implements them… and the part that giggles when something tickles our funny bone, delights in the absurd and relishes new experience.

We are part taskmaster, charging ahead to build the world, and part little kid who wants to see what an ice-cream cone tastes like in the middle of a blizzard. We are the careful shopper who checks for the best price before making a purchase, and the carefree one who splurges on a perfectly useless knick-knack just because it makes her happy.

Those at the extreme ends of the spectrum don’t struggle as much as those in the middle. They know exactly how they view life, and they have no qualms about following their natural instincts. The pillars will continue to assume burdens with a sense of dedication and responsibility, but often also with a certain degree of rigidity, strong opinions and even stubbornness. The cream puffs are content to laugh and play.

But most of us do not live life at the clear-cut extremes. We are a complex conglomerate of contradictory and sometimes conflicting impulses. We believe in doing the responsible thing, even as we sometimes long to be free and irresponsible. Or we play the lighter roles assigned to us, while secretly wishing that others would accord us more respect. With varying degrees of success, we aim for a harmonious blend between the person we were born as and the person we need to be. We want it all.

With self-awareness and self-training, we can have it all. The trick, of course, is balance. Taking a tally each day to see where we may be lacking. Have our lives become too humdrum and responsibility-driven? Maybe it’s time to sprinkle a little fun into the mixture. Have we strayed too far into the realms of humorous self-indulgence? A correction toward the center may be called for. As with any middah or attitude, steering one’s course is like driving a car. With a hand on the wheel, we adjust to the right or left as needed.

The natures we were given are there to point the way. Natural-born leaders, the future pillars of society, know what they are capable of and are happy to do it. Cream-puff types may have a harder time taking responsibility and juggling their various roles, but their families and friends get a definite boost from the airy deliciousness they offer.

Duty and pleasure are things we all need. The real question is finding the correct proportion that works for you. As the new year commences and we are granted the blessing of a fresh start, this is a wonderful time to strive for the blend that will make each of us the most complete human being that we can be.

Think cream puff with a sense of responsibility. Or a pillar with a smile.



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