One could argue that Martin Luther King was the most important political activist in modern American history.
He was certainly the most hated man in America during the 1960s, for railing against the inequities suffered by African-Americans at the hands of whites, advocating for a guaranteed basic income for all people (60 years before Andrew Yang) and stumping for a redistribution of wealth (beating Bernie Sanders and Liz Warren to the punch).
In other words, the guy was a stone-cold radical who shook up a country coming out of the “Happy Days” of the 1950s.
So you might think that Martin was a dour sort. After all, when he wasn’t exhorting millions to rise up and claim their share of the American Dream, he was busy protesting the Vietnam War and fighting consumer exploitation by industry.
But did you know, five minutes before James Earl Ray gunned him down, Dr. King was busy having a pillow fight? This according to Andrew Young, who was with him that day in Memphis.
As all SuperOptimists know, it’s important to let off steam by hitting one of your trusted personal advisors with a hammer blow of feathers when they least expect it.
King was also known for laughing at his posse for jumping in front of him in crowds, ostensibly to protect him but, in King’s eyes, more likely trying to get their pictures in the paper.
May we continue to humanize the people we venerate as saints, while not judging their mirthful side as being at odds with the seriousness of their purpose.
One SuperOptimist practice we never get tired of? Adding the phrase “And isn’t that great!” to any thoughts we may be having. A recent example can be illustrated by the following:
“Goddamn, I’ve just broken a tooth on a macadamia nut. Now I’ll have to see a dentist.”
Simply add our four magic words, and you can turn this bummer into a blessing: “Goddamn, I’ve just broken a molar on a macadamia nut. Now I’ll have to see a dentist. And isn’t that great!”
Here you’ve taken a rather pedestrian situation in which pain, expense, and inconvenience are the assumed outcomes, and reframed it into something that may have positive consequences. After all, with the proper attitude, who knows what might happen at the dentist? You could meet a new lover in the waiting room! Your dentist might be experimenting with laughing gas and offer you some! You could decide to spring for an additional ultra-whitening session and walk out of there looking like Hollywood royalty! Your dentist might accidentally find you have a serious lesion in your mouth that was going to kill you if you hadn’t seen him in time!
Here’s another one:
“Christ, where did summer go? It’s back to cold again.”
Again, add the phrase that pays.
“Christ, where did summer go? It’s back to cold again. And isn’t that great!”
Why is it great? It’s great because the cold helps you burn body fat, leading to a slimmer figure. It’s great because the cold keeps away invasive insects, like the Asian Tiger Mosquito. Most of all, you can take comfort in the fact that you’re not stuck in these temperatures for long, and there’s a cup of hot cocoa waiting for you at the end of your journey.
Here’s another: “Donald Trump is still president. And isn’t that great!”
On the surface, this seems like a nonstarter if you’re not a MAGA-hat wearing racist. But give it a moment to sink in. Instead of wanting to hide under the covers at the thought, you can feel good that nuclear missiles remain in their silos and Ivanka hasn’t been named Secretary of Defense. (Not yet, anyway.)
And one more: “With my mediocre attempts at art, I’m never going to be the next Van Gogh. And isn’t that great!”
So your work isn’t on display in MOMA’s permanent collection. Instead, you’re making a living selling commercial real estate, or working as an attorney, or driving an Uber. Why is that great? The pressure on you to be the next artistic success has been lifted, freeing you up to do more experimental work that may one day be celebrated after your death.*
*Also, your day job affords you a few niceties, like food and shelter, so you don’t have to ask a family member to support you like Vincent did. And while we can’t be sure, your psychotic episodes probably won’t lead you to sever your own appendage, unlike the struggling post-impressionist.
Conformity is so normalized, we are barely aware of it when we bow to safe, established standards. It’s like a river that wants to stay on its regular course, since altering that course may cause all kinds of unanticipated upsets, flooding, and chaos.
But maybe a little chaos is exactly what you need to reboot your internal hard drive. Zen masters would give a monk a slap if they saw him getting too cozy on the cushion. If you are alive, it can be good to wake up, ask yourself what rules you are conforming to — and why?
We invite you to join us in deviating from your norm and trying something out of your comfort zone. For example, if you wear casual clothing every day, try putting on something ostentatious: say, a hooded cape or a butterfly hat. Even better, try mimicking Katy Perry’s outfit from her evening of Met Gala-vanting. If you’re thinking of taking a vacation, close your eyes, spin a globe and pick a spot. Before you have time to reconsider, book the flight immediately. (Short on money? use a map of the surrounding counties in your area.)
Stuck at the office? How about turning your supervisor’s desk drawer into a fish tank? Or if the boss already has an expensive fish tank that he spends an inordinate amount of time tending to, put a plastic figurine of a skeleton in it and see how long it takes him to notice.*
Of course, if you decide to tell your friends about your actions, prepare for the social pushback you’ll receive. “You’re going to do what?!” “Don’t you need to get permission for that?” “If you were going to __________, don’t you think you would have done it before now?”
Take their admonishments in stride. They remain asleep and are startled by your awakening. Let their incredulousness be your motivation!
Remember, there is immense social pressure to conform and stay in one’s habitual role.Japan demonstrates some of this particular creativity problem in the popular Japanese saying “出る釘は打たれる” or, in English “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”
Admittedly, if nobody showed up for defined tasks, social order would fall apart in a matter of days. But don’t worry; most people will continue with their narrowly defined jobs, activities, and labels, while you go in search of the new!
*Note: properly clean the skeleton before placing in tank, lest the bacteria kill off the sensitive longnose hawkfish and royal gramma. Should this happen, it could be grounds for dismissal. (Which might actually be a much better fate than continuing to abide by a fishy boss anyhow.)