Early on in my migration to the Internet, I christened myself AOL’s “Online Psychohumorist” ™. Along with a part-time psychotherapy practice and the moniker “Stress Doc” ™, I was writing short psychological pieces for both AOL and Rick Estep’s pioneering jokes/humor newsletter. My stories were infused with a strong dose of wit and humor.
Throw in the myriad DSM-psychiatric labels strewn on both sides of my family tree…well the title definitely seemed apt. It certainly helped me “stand out.” In fact, a health reporter from a Canadian newspaper called wondering just what an “Online Psychohumorist” was. She had never heard the “Psychohumorist” term, let alone an Internet variety. (Btw, this was all happening around 1994-95. Actually, two years earlier, awakening from a semi-conscious/dream-like state had produced a similar role- and box-breaking epiphany. What was a psychotherapist-university professor doing writing rap-like lyrics? Of course, I was pioneering “Shrink Rap” ™.)
However, my invented neologism wasn’t simply clever thinking. I had broken out of the semantic box by integrating two seemingly contradictory knowledge-emotion-role sets – the serious mind-space of psychotherapy as well as the playfully evocative world of applied humor. (As outlined in Part II of this series, perhaps even then I was putting what I now call my new KISS into action: Keep It Simple and Smart; email firstname.lastname@example.org for the essay.)
And when wearing a Blues Brothers hat, black sunglasses, and banging a black tambourine, and prancing around the room while performing a “Shrink Rap” ™, I can imagine folks speculating on from where the “Stress Doc” had recently “broken out.” (In fact, most are amazed at my courage. I simply aver that despite years of all kinds of therapy, I have just one singular accomplishment: Absolutely no appropriate sense of shame!)
Being able to poke fun at my own psyche not only is self-effacing but also liberating, e.g., I casually say to audiences: “I’ll let you all decide where the emphasis on the word ‘psycho-humorist’ should go.” I’m comfortable being out there, fulfilling my existential mission…being a wise man and a wise guy. And I’m standing out even more by being “Out-Rage-ous”!
Harnessing the “Rage” in Out-Rage-ous
These days, akin to the newscaster in the classic movie “Network,” a lot of folks are verbalizing – whether dramatically or more covertly: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not taking it anymore.”
Clearly, we need leaders who can reach out to these folks and, as Lincoln hoped, acknowledge their base pain, (recognize and respond to the political-economic inequality and moral issues facing the country), and encourage our “greater angels.” We certainly don’t need more communicators stirring up a hornet’s nest of “buzzin, bloomin confusion” and scapegoating division. Invariably, the so-called authority’s self-righteous rant becomes a smoke and mirrors cover for personal egotism and venom as well as consuming ambitions.
We hunger for enlightened communicators who will purposefully and compassionately touch rather than provocatively trigger rage. A healing and harmonizing leader wants to harness and transform individual and/or group frustration or aggression into constructive discontent. The aspiring inspiring communicator wants to turn that aggression into proactive vision, purposeful and hopeful energy, and collaborative action. Such a challenging figure believes in breaking down barriers – whether personal or social, mental or external – in order to build “performance and partnership” bridges of expanded openness and opportunity, of greater trust, productivity, and team synergy.
Pushing the Boundaries
To do this may require pushing the boundaries of the predictable and comfortable. In fact, the Old French derivation of outrageous is “to push the bounds” or “to be highly unusual or unconventional”; okay, sometimes it means “being shocking.” One appears unrestrained (if not on the edge) regarding behavior or temperament.
Not surprisingly pushing bounds or borders often challenges perspective, e.g., upending “black or white” assumptions or creating shades of gray in someone’s “only one right way” world. That is, a key component of being out-rage-ous involves challenging a person/position bounded or blinded by rage or self-righteousness or rigid expectations.
A conscious boundary pusher, not wanting to be arrogantly righteous, often generates contrast through contradiction, but not by pummeling the head nor by shaming the heart of a message target. (This only numbs the brain or eventually fuels more rage.) Remember, optimal contrast is neither full of rage nor full of itself; it is “out-rage-ous.” Such contrast pushes boundaries until they loosen up, perhaps reveal a crack in the armor, or even break; but “out-rage-ous” does not blow up boundaries or bodies for dominance or violence sake. You are trying to have others consider a less rigid and more open world view. Contrast used “aware-ily” (with awareness and some wariness, or, even better, playfully or humorously) is less likely to evoke defensive reactivity; it has a better chance of stirring a degree of mind-opening cognitive dissonance and reassessment.
The Other Side of Conflict: Of Four Minds
If not feeling personally threatened or attacked, a previously one-sided individual may now tolerate some immediate confusion, and move through initial angst or discomfort to see another side of contradiction or conflict. Building upon the Free Dictionary, “conflict” is not only the clash or struggle of individual or social positions or ideas. From a psychological perspective, conflict is “the opposition between two simultaneous but incompatible wishes or drives, sometimes leading to a state of emotional tension and thought to be responsible for neuroses”…but as frequently a generator of mind exploration and expansion as well as creative expression.
Consider these four insightful and varying shades of – out-rage-ous viewpoints on the mind-expanding power of integrating or transforming contradiction and conflict:
1. Sign of Vital Intelligence. As F. Scott Fitzgerald penned, and many other leading scientists and artists have averred: The test of a first rate intellect is the capacity to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. For example, one should see things as hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.
2. Surprising Example of Wit. National author and humorist, Mark Twain, further activated and consolidated this “higher contradiction” process by defining “wit” as the sudden marriage of ideas which before their union were not perceived to have any relation. (So opposites may attract; how long this provocative union will last, and whether it will sire any brainchildren…only tension, some talent, and time will tell.)
3. Challenge for Higher Synthesis and Flow. The tension of opposites – thesis and antithesis – challenges the mind to achieve greater synthesis, to integrate contradiction with Janusian perspective. Such a conception reflects the double-profiled, Roman god, Janus, the mythological figurehead of both leavings and returns. For psychiatrist and author Albert Rothenberg, “Janusian thinking” is a Western version of the ancient East’s Yin/Yang paradoxical perspective, that is, the holistic and synergistic relating and flowing together of opposing elements or forces.
4. Mind-Body Link across Creative Domains. And 20th c. political novelist-philosopher and student of creativity, Arthur Koestler, saw a mental and vocal linkage when connecting unexpected or seemingly disparate ideas or elements, but not just within the field of wit and humor. Koestler made a cognitive-expressive association in the arts and sciences as well: When we suddenly “get it” or “see it”…when appreciating a piece of art we say, “Ah”; with scientific discovery we exclaim, “Aha”; and when we laugh it is, “Ha-ha!
Conflict, seeming contradiction, and “out-rage-ous” contrast…all have the potential to be communicative and creative catalysts. To quote John Dewey, 19th century pragmatic philosopher and father of modern American education: Conflict is the gadfly of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory; it shocks us out of sheep-like passivity. It instigates to invention and sets us at noting and contriving. Conflict is the sine qua non of reflection and ingenuity!
And I have come up with a moniker, actually, a conceptual tool kit, for “standing out” and “being out-rage-ous,” for adding communicational, ideational, and inspirational PUNCH: Passion-(the) Unexpected-Novelty-Creativity-Humor. Will share more shortly. Until then, in F. Scott fashion… be “Out-rage-ous” and Practice Safe Stress!
Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is a national keynote and webinar speaker and "Motivational Humorist & Team Communication Catalyst" known for his interactive, inspiring and FUN programs for both government agencies and major corporations. A training and Critical Incident/Grief Intervention Consultant for the National EAP/Wellness Company, Business Health Services in Baltimore, MD, the Doc also leads “Stress, Team Building and Humor” programs for various branches of the Armed Services. Mark, a former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service, is the author of Resiliency Rap,Practice Safe Stress, and of The Four Faces of Anger. See his award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" – www.stressdoc.com – called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR). For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email email@example.com
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