Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The New “R & R” – Courageous RESILIENCE & Creative RISK-Taking: The Art of Designing Disorder

Here's a speaking-workshop program decades in the making, though two recent catalysts – a church program and a social work conference – helped put the final pieces and touches together.  I believe it captures my inner Teddy Roosevelt.  Hope you think it’s as special as I do.  Enjoy!

The New “R and R” – Courageous RESILIENCE and Creative RISK-Taking: The Art of Designing Disorder
Immediately after a recent “Stress Resilience and Passion Power” Program for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia, MD two attendees approached me – one was the UU Director of Learning, the other a scientist and parent.  Both expressed the belief that my interactive, thought-provoking, and humorous method, and especially my material on “Stress Resilience,” “Learn to Fail or Fail to Learn,” and the “Steps of Creative Risk-Taking” would be great for high school students.  Howard County Schools tend to put considerable emphasis (and workload) on high level achievement; not surprisingly, student and parent stress levels can be plenty elevated.  Both plan to talk with the Youth Director of the Congregation to see if we can pilot a student program that might be able to spread its wings and fly in county schools.
Then, the next day at a Social Work Conference, keynoter Brene Brown walked her “Daring Greatly” talk.  She focused on having the courage to be vulnerable; in fact, for her, true courage does not exist without feeling vulnerable.  The topic (and her book of the same title) was inspired by the oft-cited quote by President Teddy Roosevelt:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
Barriers to and Transfusions for Blood and Guts
Too often people mistake vulnerability for weakness.  This is not surprising when the familiar synonyms are:  susceptible, weak or weak position, defenseless, helpless, exposed; also open to, in danger, at risk, etc.  Who wants to be vulnerable!!!  That’s the paradox:  it takes courage to be vulnerable.  In fact, there’s a big difference between being overwhelmed by fear, helplessness, or risk and staying and working with gnawing, even hyperventilating anxiety.  One fork, frequently echoing voices of shame and blame, leads to panic or paralysis; the other path somehow has your mind-body sweating yet grappling with these same disruptive and dread-full emotions.  (And sometimes the courageous act is recognizing when biochemistry not moral character is the driving dynamic.)  In the face of such vulnerability, pluck remains resilient and passionate by getting back in the saddle and continuing to problem-solve, especially in the face of setbacks. Courage may require admitting the need for support – from the biochemical to the interpersonal (e.g. daring to do a medication trial or joining a therapy group).  When regularly set into motion (that is, harnessing the “motion” in emotion), the acceptance of vulnerability paired with passionate-courageous action aids the “off the wall” (wonder-art-love-learning) search for meaning, integrity, and community, for future plans and hope.
Vulnerability has always been a critical part of my “Creative Risk-Taking Model.”  Actually, near obsession about vulnerability (and a longstanding diagnosis of agitated-depression) stands on  two key pillars:
1) my anxiety-generating family background (including a father secretly receiving fifteen years of shock therapy for “manic-depression” and a beloved grandmother who lost both her legs, one due to a botched surgery as a young adult, the other to diabetes while living with us; gram died when I was twelve) and
2) a chronic childhood-early mid-teen condition of near panic-paralyzing-terrifying fears that inhibited standing up to bullying peers living in the same apartment building; this ongoing psychosocial stress also disrupted my ability to concentrate and perform successfully at school.
Not surprisingly, vulnerability is an integral part of my conception of mind, heart, and soul.  As a young adult, a number of critical emotional-transitional scenarios fostered a rebirth of courage:
a) the invaluable help and leadership of my father; while leaving the family temporarily he also stopped the ECT treatments and began psychotherapy; my parents eventually reconciled and dad continued in group therapy for a dozen years; for a few years, our household was like an intense family therapy laboratory,
b) undergoing (for me) novel demands and challenges in Army Basic Training,
c) soon thereafter, starting Social Work graduate school and then personal and group therapy, where I began to uncover primitive demons and primordial pain,
d) dad and I, truly for the first time, having honest and tearful, loving and forgiving conversations, e.g., six years after the disruptive family crisis, my finally having the courage to ask dad why he needed shock therapy, and
e) leaving New York City for further post-graduate work in New Orleans; actually, in “The Big Easy,” I eventually came out of the creative closet, in some ways liberated by burning out  while questing for the holy doctorate.  (I call those daze:  When academic flashdancing whirled to a burnout tango!)
Through such trials and errors and occasional terrors I learned to face if not embrace the ghosts of humiliation and to harness and ride the primal horse of vulnerable angst.  Step by step I was transforming and driving depression, fear and near panic states along with repressed rage and unfocused aggression into determination and daring.  Over the years, I’ve likely taken on some demanding if not daunting assignments, including breaking into radio and TV with no previous electronic media experience, being a Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service, and leading Stress Resilience-Humor-Team Building Retreats with the military.  A definite driver was trying to overcome (without forgetting or numbing) the past shame of too often being a defenseless and co-dependent victim.  My co-pilot was that higher power triangle:  forging pain-purpose-passion into a new identity and direction.
The Art of Vital Vulnerability
Recently, a “Resiliency Rap” ™ captured what I’ve learned about the vulnerable-valiant process.  Let’s call it channeling that “Rough Rider,” my Inner TR.  First, though, two pithy poetic pieces to help set the arena:
Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!
Some of you may recognize the above from my formal newsletter masthead.  And
For the Phoenix to rise from the ashes
One must know the pain
To transform the fire to burning desire!
Cowardice or Choice:  From Vice to Voice
A coward dies a thousand deaths; a hero dies but once **
No matter the total breaths; when it mattered…did you give your every ounce?
The saddest part of cowardice, the sacrifice of peaceful sleep
To cold night sweats of moral vice; a haunted voice that makes you weep.
Still…that twilight coliseum, a dreamscape of battling foes
A second chance for wrestling demons; will you now go blow for blow?
You may not win each contest; there will be trails of blood
But you may slowly lay to rest that nightmare-stalking brood.
Each hour brings another choice – to take a stand or run
Even lacking true clear voice, in no way are you dumb.
Dig deep for that rich ore of shame; you are near with fear or rage
Let a guide reveal a novel game; get off the “b.s.” (be safe) stage.
Lurking in shadows psychic, bubbling lava primal pain…
Sculpt and dance until there’s magic; Pygmalion’s art shall rise again.
No longer that once robot child, head twisting madly side-to-side
Yes, pursue the “Call of the Wild”; beware that, “Well, I tried.”
“Learn to Fail or Fail to Learn”; please forsake the craft of cool
Fiery spirit will once more burn when com/passion and purpose rule!
[** Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar]
Courageous RESILIENCE and Creative RISK-Taking: The Art of Designing Disorder
A.    From Agenda to the Arena
1) Feel and Focus on “Constructive Discontent”
2) Prepare for Courageous and Creative Engagement
3) Go from “Cowardice to Choice”:  Honor and Harness Angst
B.    Aware-ily Jump In Over Head
1) Generates Vulnerable State and Rapid Learning Curve:  Threat-Loss-Challenge
2) Quick Assessment of Skills and Resources:  SERVE
3) Beware of Alligators
C.    Strive to Survive High Dive
1) Strive High and Embrace Failure
2) Time Frame:  Beachheads and Battles
3) Come Up for Air; TLC and Collaboration
D.    Thrive On “Thrustration”…Incubate to Illuminate
1) Torn between Direct Action and Frustration
2) Take an Incubation Vacation:  Letting Go to Letting Come
3) Creative Tension Spurs Meditative Volcano:  CHOP and Cognitive Disinhibition
E.    Design for Error & Evaluation, Being Out and Opportunity
1) Range of Possibilities over Fixed or Ideal Goals
2) Choosing Confusion over Illusion of Control; Avoid “b.s.”
3) Ambiguity for Connection and Vision; Out of the Closet and Develop Networks
F.  Discovering Your "Passion Power" and Creating a "Winning Team"
1) The Power of Conflict and Contradiction Exercise
2) Stress Doc's Inspiring "Four 'P's of Passion Power" Matrix
3) Confronting Your Intimate FOE Exercise:  Individual Creativity and Interactive Community.

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is a national keynote and webinar speaker and "Motivational Humorist and 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" – 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 or call 301-875-2567.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Stand Out…Don’t Just Be Outstanding; Be Out-Rage-Ous…Not Just “Out of the Box”: Part III (Section B)

Section B:  Be Out-Rage-Ous…Not Just “Out of the Box”

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 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" – 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 or call 301-875-2567.