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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

JULY 2006, Sec. II

Main Essay

[Due to its length, the complete essay is an attachment.]

A word association exercise used in a workshop on "Getting a New Hip Replacement" has the Stress Doc reflecting on the power of oppositional or contradictory thinking.  Seven "cognitive, cool and creative" dynamics are examined, including how reconciling or integrating opposition becomes a tool for challenging habits and assumptions, taking on "sacred cows", making fine discriminations as well as generating imaginative perspective and innovative problem-solving.

Why Being Contrary May Be Cognitive, Cool and Creative:
Seven Oppositional Dynamics for Being Hip

Last month was the culmination of a three-part series at the Holiday Park Multi-Purpose Senior Center.  The Center, run by Montgomery County, Maryland, sponsors a variety activities - lectures and classes, daytrips and concerts, as well as daily lunches.  In fact, my one-hour program was the after lunch "fast food for thought."  The series participants were gender-mixed; most in the 50s to 70s age range.  (Many were retirees from the federal government -- from scientists to secretaries.)

The first program dealt with identifying and managing senior stressors.  The second focused on family tension and conflict - from grieving the loss of a spouse to bickering or battling with friends, children and other relatives.  The final workshop explored ways to add vitality and renewed purpose to being a senior and to retirement living:  challenging your mind and freeing up your emotions; becoming more comfortable taking calculated risks; exploring new hobbies, or engaging in desired activities in light of medical concerns.  And finally, how do you sustain or develop supportive social relations for this new lifestyle?

The title of the program:  "Are You Ready for a New Kind of Hip Replacement?"  I may have been too clever by half:  a number of center members assumed I was an orthopedic maven.  For the future, I'm leaning toward a subtitle of "Cool and Comfy, Contrary and Creative:  On Becoming a Four 'C'-ing Senior."  (Ahh, once a word artist…)

However, the meaning became quite evident when I asked participants, "What makes someone hip?"  Now an array of descriptors poured forth:  "current, daring controversial, confident in one's skin, innovative or trend setter, irreverent, self-expressive, genuine, stylish, independent thinker, etc."  And examples from these seniors ranged from the serious and sublime to the sensual and silly - engaging in street-type political protest to dressing boldly and dancing provocatively (i.e., being "out of character") at a cruise ship party.  (I didn't ask how much alcohol might have been at play.)  Costuming came up several times in the hip examples.  Perhaps this indicates that people believe they must be out of their normal, day-to-day self in order to be cool or controversial.

After sharing this observation with the group I then laid out my intention:  to outline some (non-fat) hip building skills and strategies.  For me, hipness is less something dictated by external circumstances and more something that you evolve and carry around in your head and heart.  And it is expressed or put into action through an array of choices and played out in a variety of social engagements or settings.

Actually, being hip reminds me of a quote on creativity by the Hungarian Nobel Prize-winning scientist, Albert Szent-Gyorgi.  It goes something like this:  Creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought.  And while this may be a bit singular or extreme, clearly, hipness is an uncommon lens or framework for viewing and designing one's self and one's world.

A Challenging Thinking Exercise

So how can you develop a perspective or path that reflects your individuality, often challenges or pokes playfully at the conventional while encouraging fresh, out of the box and, even, provocative vision, thought and expression?  I believe an interactive workshop exercise based on an academic research project may illuminate a key cognitive-psychological component of being hip.   And it's a dynamic that is also connected to creative perspective.

Let me outline the nature of the study, the workshop exercise steps and then its modus operandi.  Dr. Albert Rothenberg, a Yale cognitive psychologist and psychiatrist, paired a word association test and a creative personality inventory to assess whether there is a correlation between high scores on the personality measure and ways of free-associating to a list of words.  I have modified and simplified his study in this manner.  One at a time, I read off ten common words ("warm," "tiny," "dry," etc.) asking audience members to first copy the word and then to write their immediate association.  (I usually have the words up on a screen.)  I then ask people to evaluate their responses based on three broad categories:  was their word a "synonym" (or similar to the word I read), a "personal or unique" response (e.g., associating the word "cat" to the word "warm" because you feel your cat's warmth when you snuggle), or an "antonym" (or opposite association)?  After each person categorizes their response list I have them break up into small groups and share and discuss their word choices.  By a show of hands, I determine the numbers comprising the response categories.  Synonyms and unique/personal responses are fairly even in count; these two usually account for 90% or more of the total category responses.  (I may playfully comment: "Guess, we've identified the deviants in the room.")

However, I still have not shared the true purpose of the exercise.  After, a few minutes of group sharing, I then discuss Dr. Rothenberg's interest in the way creative personalities free-associate eventually asking the group which category they believe correlates most closely with creative personality measure.  (I also reassure everyone, "that this is only one crude measurement.  And that if we used other measures I'm sure all would score above average on a creativity scale.")  Perhaps seeing the sharp contrast in numbers between the opposite responders and the other two categories enables people to call out "antonyms" as the creative category.

So what specifically makes oppositional association or simultaneous contradictory thinking such a powerful tool for imaginatively breaking out of a mental and operational box?   Consider the "Seven Purposeful, Passionate and Playful Dynamics of Contrarily Hip and Creative Thinking":

1.  Question the Conventional or Expressively Disrupt the Commonplace or Status Quo.  Oppositional thinking often takes on tired and true assumptions and mindless habits.  It often challenges authority or “the way it’s always been” tradition.  And the more high-minded the principle or inflated the ego, the greater the incentive to skewer the rigid and/or self-righteous.  Perhaps von Oech, in his book, Whack on the Side of the Head, said it best (or, at least, came up with a hipster mantra):  “Sacred cows make great steaks.”  (Though this mantra may not go down easily with those hip vegans.)

 In addition to challenging authority and convention, creative and hip people often need to express their genuine individuality.  Their desire goes beyond just a need to be contrary or different.  These individuals need to hear and are not afraid to follow the beat of their uncommon inner drummer.  In fact, Edvard Munch, the great 19th century Norwegian painter, best known for his famous work, “The Scream,” claimed that his anxieties and neuroses actually gave him direction and a sense of purpose.  Without his inner demons he would have been lost.


2.  See Spatial-Psychological Relationships, Including Both Sides to Achieve Multiple and/or Mature Perspective.  By definition, oppositional thinking means you are aware of some existing premise or position and that you are thinking in comparative and contrasting terms.  For example, free-associating on a word test with an opposite term means you are not just reacting subjectively or spontaneously.  Actually, you are anchoring both words in some kind of cognitive, psychological and/or spatial-temporal relationship, e.g., above-below, before-after, front-back, etc.  I bet you’ve encountered a pairing of emotional and behavioral opposites that provides an evocative description for a behavior that can be maddening:  “passive-aggressive.”

While an issue may seem “black or white” or “good vs. evil,” juxtaposing opposites provides opportunity for transcending “all or none” and “right vs. wrong” thinking.  Do you know any “arrogant altruists”?  For example, a person may be simultaneously driven by both selfish and selfless motives.  A person may understand that wise stress management maxim of, “Giving of yourself and giving to yourself.”  (As someone who I can’t recall noted, character is developed through social interaction, integrity through solitary pursuit.)

 An ability to see both sides of an issue, to be able to look beyond your own needs, preferences and biases, to acknowledge if not embrace even an antagonist’s position, often enhances or perhaps defines your capacity for empathy.  Being able to walk a mile in an opponent’s shoes is often a sign of emotional intelligence or an excellent EI building activity.  (Maybe physical intelligence/empathy as well if you can also relate to their bunions.) 

Of course, a lack of empathy can also be exposed and lampooned.  For example, I recall an old New Yorker cartoon that deftly and delightfully transcended overly righteous or rigid self-importance with a hip skewering of the same.  A nattily attired, pompous looking publisher standing behind his power desk begins to chastise a humbly dressed, hat in hand Charles Dickens:  "Really, Mr. Dickens…was it the best of times or was it the worst of times?  It could scarcely have been both!" 

In addition, using a double-edged, seemingly contradictory perspective not only works when engaging self-centered and one-dimensional antagonists.  Such a mindset can even enrich a warm fuzzy concept with near universal appeal – TLC.  Using a seemingly oppositional framework, TLC now may have an even more motivational utility and value:  “Tender Loving Criticism” and “Tough Loving Care.”

 Actually, for the acclaimed 20th century novelist, F. Scott Fitzgerald, breaking through such “black or white” barriers was a sign of real cognitive maturity and proficiency:  “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.”  And such cognitive agility further helps develop flexibility, complexity and hipness.


3.  Generate a Broader and Deeper, a More Novel and Complex Perspective.  As a way of delving into this enriched oppositional perspective, let me ask a couple of questions:  Are you a beach person or a mountain person?  Do you often engage with emotional memories from the past or frequently draw on past experience and historical perspective to enrich current understanding or do you only live for the present?  Perhaps you frequently escape via futuristic reverie?  While I don’t have conclusive evidence, I suspect hip or creative-types tend to live in multiple worlds.  To draw on an observation by acclaimed 20th century English author, John Fowles (The Collector, The Magus, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, etc.), as a writer the past is his electric current; he needs to be plugged into this power source.  Personally, I must grapple with painful memories to be truly myself and true to myself.  Facing and feeling the breadth and depth of my past means living more fully in the present and planning more fearlessly for the future.

 Actually, oppositional thinking and doing is at the essence of my personal and professional being.  This mindset certainly has challenged me to expand my career roles and professional skillsets.  My seemingly contradictory framework is composed of two seemingly distinct personae:  1) a more quiet, reflective and introverted “Cave Persona” and 2) a more extroverted, outgoing, charming and dynamic, if not a tad manic, “Stage Persona.”  And these cage and stage temperaments certainly both reflect and predispose me toward two different role-skillsets:

a. Clinician/Author – these roles reflects my interest in and need to explore the serious, emotionally poignant and dark sides of human nature; and believe me the need to explore begins at home.  Both focused, sequential and analytical listening as well as well as soft, intuitive and empathic listening along with probing and reflective questioning are vital aspects of the roles of therapist and writer.  Of course, listening to one’s own inner voice or soul is critical and foundational, and

b. Public Speaker/Performer – this role allows me to be a bit larger than life – I can be silly, theatrical and outrageous.  I often channel aggressive energy into playfully biting humor or dramatic expression; irreverent wit may turn into light-hearted messages of enlightenment.  And while noted above as a “cave” persona role, interestingly, at times, my writing draws on both skillsets.  While there’s an obvious quiet and reflective side essential to creative writing, yet it frequently involves tapping into aggressive and whimsically empathic energy, especially when attempting to turn wit into wisdom.  I’m reminded of the title of a drive time “Stress Brake” radio essay on burnout:  “Breaking Out of a Hell of a Shell or Don’t Feel Too Sorry for Humpty Dumpty He Needed to Hit Bottom.”

 So having two sharply distinguished personae and role sets provides opportunity to integrate these seemingly contradictory states into an uncommonly rich synthesis.  For example, speaking programs convey both an insightful depth and generate childlike exuberance.  In fact, I had to invent (and trademark) a term to capture the double-edged, yin- and yang-like complexity of my professional identity –  “Psychohumorist” ™.  (Of course, I let my audience decide where the emphasis on this word should go!)

 And this double-edged yet integrative nature and expression not only yields an unusual blend of substance and style; it also produces an uncommon impact on others:  “You really love what you do” and “You have great energy” are common post-performance observations from audience members.  And they are right.  But why is this so?  Certainly I love the spotlight and the attention.  You may know that familiar aphorism:  “Vanity thy name is Gorkin!”  Hey my public persona mantra:  “To get so much exposure that I’m finally arrested for indecency!”

 And while the above has some truth (maybe even more than I want to fully admit), there’s another reason for my exuberance and energy:  being on stage allows me to draw on and release my fullest self – from the emotionally sensitive and reflective thinker, writer and therapist to the aggressive, irreverent and outrageous performer.  I also have biochemical license to cycle a bit manic and melancholy.  Actually, I have license to break out of traditional or “appropriate” categories.  I have license to project a deeper and broader, a more complex and creative, more cool or hip perspective and persona.

 4.  Perceive Shades of Gray.  If you can see a connection between black and white, perhaps you can even see these two hues yielding a mix of gray.  Or perhaps you can envision partly overlapping black and white circles (a Venn Diagram) so that now there’s a section of gray sandwiched between black and white crescent-shaped moons.  (An ex-teacher provided an illustration of how she used Venn Diagrams to help her third graders understand comparison and contrast. She had them draw two separate circles, one with the traits and characteristics of dogs and the other with the traits and characteristics of cats.  She then had them overlap the circles where the household pets displayed common qualities while the separate parts of the circles contained their differing natures.)

 This visualization can help illuminate how the color gray or, for example, consensus forged from contradictory positions, is a product of creating common ground or overlapping space between oppositional black and white positions or figures.  Or in political terms, with our current Red State vs. Blue State dichotomy, Independent Voters may one day forge a Purple Party or, depending on the issue, may display shades of purple while still having basic blue or red sentiment.

 But perhaps the best way of generating a sense of gradation is through polar opposites tension depicted as end points of a spectrum.  For example, think of the color spectrum – red gradually shading into purple, purple shading into blue, etc.  Or consider the flexible and optimal tension of a violin string that allows for a maximal variety and quality of tone and pitch.  So instead of black or white, all or none, right or wrong, high or low dichotomy, you can operate with fractions and make subtle differentiations and discriminations.  You are not just cold and hot (unless, like my good lady friend, you are subjected to one of those hot flashes), but experience degrees or shades of warmth or coolness.

Speaking of heat, an inverse illustration comes to mind based on the relative absence of discriminatory capacity.  Since his two strokes, my father feels cold unless the ambient temperature is about eighty.  His body temperature and comfort level leaves little room for flexible adjustment or adaptation to a room with even a hint of coolness.  (The impact of his body temperature reactivity on marital adjustment can be a subject for a whole other article.)

 Finally, being able to flexibly view points of overlap, to make fine distinctions, to conjure a gradient of gray shades rather than a black versus white perspective means you can place ideas and actions in a variety of contexts.  For example you can understand how a mix of interpersonal and environmental factors and historical experience along with biological-psychological temperaments and socio-cultural norms and values usually impact or motivate individual behavior.


Attributional Bias:  Black vs. White Perception

 By way of illustration, let me introduce a robust perceptual framework from the field of social psychology called Attribution Theory.  Attribution Theory is concerned with how an observer, Person A, explains the behavior of another, Person B.   What factors does Person A consider in making judgments about Person B’s capacities, talents, motivational state or environmental constraints or supports?  Alas, all or none bias is not uncommon.  For example, does Person A make personal or “dispositional” attributions separate from environmental or “situational” attributions when trying to explain his or her colleague’s behavior?  Let me illustrate.  Research has shown that when explaining, for example, the behavior of coming to work late, subjects often make a glaring distinction.  An individual tends to explain a colleague’s lateness due to laziness or general disorganization (i.e., with a personal attribution).  However, when explaining our own tardy behavior we tend to carefully itemize the external factors – traffic bottlenecks, getting kids to daycare, etc.

 For me, this kind of “attributional bias” doesn’t just reveal deficient Emotional Intelligence…it’s also not very sophisticated or cool.  If being hip means seeing and thinking in uncommon and individualistic ways, then seeing shades of gray or perceiving both personal and situational motivational dynamics is critical to avoiding a black and white, one-dimensional mode of understanding and judging.  To turn Nietzchean for a moment, free thinking means going beyond the labeling box of “good vs. evil.”  And with this liberating awareness just think of the possibilities…You many never again have to just say, “Have a nice day.”  I like “Have an oxymoronic day” or “”Have a complex or an ambiguous one.”

 5.  Stimulate Creative Confusion.  Frequently, it’s not an easy task relating and reconciling opposition.  Finding common ground or perceiving analogous properties or similarities between things seemingly unlike may take a keen or clever mind.  In fact, according to renowned author and humorist, Mark Twain, this cognitive agility is the essence of “wit”:  the sudden marriage of ideas which before their union were not perceived to have any relation.

 With Twain’s definition in mind, what I’m about to say may seem counterintuitive:  “Ahas!” don’t just happen.  Akin to their human counterparts, conceptual opposites may attract but they don’t necessarily make cool or creative connections…at least not without some back and forth if not stormy interrelating.  Grappling with contradiction often generates an initial conceptual mind field of uncertainty, confusion and frustration.  The psychiatrist, Richard Rabkin, called this state “thrustration.”

 Continuing with our conjugal or at least human relational metaphor, I’ve defined “thrustration” as being torn between thrusting ahead with direct action and frustration, as you have not been able to put together all the pieces of the puzzle.  And, at this point, it’s best to stop trying to willpower a solution or conceptual connection.  Take a time out; distract your conscious mind by walking in a forest, hitting a tennis ball or taking a bike ride or a nap.  In other words, take an “incubation vacation” to hatch the new, the unexpected and the hip, that is, that “Aha!” perspective.


A Catalyst for Reflection and Persuasion

 Another 19th century man of letters, the philosopher and educator, John Dewey, captured the fertile ground possibility in conflict and contradiction:  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.  Sounds pretty cool to me!

 Finally, there’s a power negotiation tactic worth noting when dealing with someone opposed to your premise.  Present your viewpoint and then encourage your antagonist to challenge your position.  This may have a counterintuitive effect; you may be inducing some confusion and subsequent openness.  That is, since arguments are often less about facts and figures and more about the actual or perceived status of the individuals in the relationship, when you accept such a challenge or rebuttal you are helping the other party feel less subservient and more in control.  And, lo and behold, once having exercised the freedom to disagree or criticize, the antagonist may just become more predisposed to acknowledge the value of your argument, if not adopt your original contrary position.

 This negotiation dynamic even can work with that frustrating, often passive-aggressive “stress carrier”…the “Yes, butter.”  As I like to say:

     If you can get a person who says, “Yes, but”
     To openly rebut
     Even if they may be a pain in the…
     You can often get them to say, “But, yes!”

 6.  Reveals a Paradoxical or Higher Truth.  If being hip or clever often involves the capacity for irreverence and insight, then I have one pithy example – a witticism that reconciles seeming contradiction and reveals a truth about the vagaries of human nature.  It’s my classic and hip holiday joke, and it’s a tool for preserving your sanity during the gathering of the tribe.  Basically you need to understand the difference between “holiday blues” and “holiday stress.”  Now “holiday blues” is the feeling of loss or sadness that you have when, for whatever reason, over the holidays you cannot be with those people who have been or are special or significant.  And “holiday stress”…is when you have to be with some of those people!  We all can relate and knowingly share a laugh.  Once again, grappling with seemingly contradictory tendencies actually reveals an aspect of your nature and, more broadly, of human nature.

 Or consider this perceptive observation of human need and motivation by the pioneering film genius, Charlie Chaplin:  A paradoxical thing about making comedy is that it is precisely the tragic which arouses the funny.  We have to laugh due to our helplessness in the face of natural forces and in order not to go crazy.


Yin and Yang:  Symbol of Synthesis

 Grappling with opposition was essential to the theorizing of the renowned 19th century German philosopher, Friederich Hegel.  Hegel posited that a starting point or position – a “Thesis” – when contrasted with its opposite – an “Antithesis” – can generate sufficient tension to yield a higher order concept or integrative “Synthesis.”  One way of literally envisioning higher order synthesis is through the Eastern integrative symbol of dynamic holism – Yin/Yang.  Yin has been described as representing receptive or devoted (sometimes called female) energy while Yang typically represents active or potent (male) energy.  (Although, I’m involved with an AARP card-carrying woman who definitely belies this traditional categorization.)  And usually this higher order synthesis is achieved by depicting these energies as two separate, mercurial, squash-like figures, one dark, one light, flowing into each other to form a unified whole.  And within each of these parts of a whole lies a dot – black in the white yin segment, white in the dark yang segment.  The dot is not unlike a contrasting seed in a womb.  The placement of these oppositional dots reveals the paradoxical truth that the seed in the Yang configuration is the genesis of Yin energy while the Yin seed nurtures Yang potentiality.  (One quick example comes to mind:  how a healthy fight that affirms both parties and clears the air may turn partners into ardent lovers.)

 This notion of one form of energy or nature being the precursor of its seeming antithesis also reminds me of two poetic “grief and rebirth” insights penned years ago:

 For the Phoenix to rise from the ashes
One must know the pain
To transform the fire to burning desire!


Whether the loss is a key person, a desired position or a powerful illusion each deserves the respect of a mourning.  The pit in the stomach, the clenched fists and quivering jaw, the anguished sobs prove catalytic in time.  In mystical fashion, like Spring upon Winter, the seeds of dissolution bear fruitful renewal.

 These two “one must die to be reborn” quotes combined with the insights found in the “holiday blues” joke and Chaplin’s prescient pairing of comedy and tragedy lead us to a fundamental aspect of being hip and a key component of the creative process:  an ability to cry and laugh, to “let go” (even of the loved object or idea) and to grapple with our fears as necessary conditions for exploring anew.

 Having focused on grieving, let’s appropriately close with two pithy quotes on laughter, quotes that reveal, actually, the interrelationship between fear and laughter, competence and courage.  The first if from psychiatrist, Ernst Kris:  “What was once feared and is now mastered is laughed at.”

 The second is the Stress Doc’s inversion of the first:  “What was once feared and is now laughed at is no longer a master.”

 And our final strategic segment will further examine this capacity for being bold and brazen.

 7.  Encourage Daring and Defiance.  Clearly, with an oppositional predisposition to question the conventional, self-righteous or status quo and/or armed with a “higher truth” you are often ready to embark on a path that may be grand or grandiose (or maybe both.  Hopefully, yours is a non-fundamentalist or fanatical truth.)  Seeing what others can’t or won’t see, perceiving more sides, subtleties or possibilities to a thorny issue has the potential for generating uncommon vision and vistas and fresh pathways and processes.

 Of course, to see and think anew not only means getting out of the box; sometimes the box may have to be knocked down or blown up.  As one of the giants of 20th century art, Pablo Picasso (a man of many, and not always endearing, paradoxical qualities) observed:  Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.  (Here’s where fanaticism can be quite problematic:  When your goal is to create an absolutely pure or “righteous” society, then if you are not with us you are “unpatriotic.”  Or another is sinful ways must be shamed and condemned, and sometimes the sinner must be exterminated.

 Picasso also proposed another paradoxical epiphany:  Art is the lie that reveals a greater truth!

 What does he mean by these observations?  And what is the connection between daring and defiance and being creative, conscious and current?  And how may this path reveal a wise or compassionate “higher or greater truth?”

 First, why might conceptual or symbolic (though sometimes literal) destruction be a necessary catalyst for generating novel or innovative perspective, process or plan?  In my mind, you often have to break habit chains or “less tried and just accepted as true” assumptions in order to see, think and design in a novel or fresh way.  And while the tearing down, explosion or breaking apart process may be painful, it paves the way for two essentials for creative exploration:  1) it clears the familiar playing field; you have a new (or mostly clean) canvas to work with and 2) it often induces a state of uncertainty and confusion which may drive you to perceive and build fresh or unexpected, perhaps even fantastic (i.e., the exaggerated lie begetting truth) connections or relationships among the ideas and/or elements in your problem-solving field.


Designing Team Energy and Synergy


Let me illustrate these two both these paradoxes – destruction for creation, lie for truth – by sketching my signature “psychohumorist” ™, “team discussion and team drawing” speaking or workshop program exercise.  Participants are divided into small groups (4-6 people/group).  They are given about ten minutes to identify sources workplace stress and conflict.  That’s the easy part.  Then in the same amount of time, the group must produce a team picture that captures the individual stress perspectives.  Invariably, a number of the participants experience some confusion, if not anxiety, at the prospect of transforming individual perspective into collective visualization.  But once the group realizes they have to discard or replace linear and logical thinking for visual metaphor and holistic figure-ground story telling through pictures, suddenly the conceptual and operational fog lifts…And creative energy and laughter erupts.

 Here’s one of my favorite designs.  The audience was comprised of NASA and Lockheed Martin supervisors and managers.  There definitely was a preponderance of analytical, left-brained individuals.  There was considerable workplace anxiety; news of budget cuts and personnel reorganization was in the air. One picture (done on full-size flipchart paper with broad-tipped colored markers) was a classic.  On a cliff is a devil-like figure, with pointy ears and a long tail, with a trident in one hand, a whip in the other.  The executive/devil is driving this flock of sheep to the cliff’s edge and beyond.  Actually, the sheep have only one option:  jumping off the cliff.  And the safety net below has gaping holes.  While the content is an exaggeration, you can’t miss the emotional message.  And did you note the oppositional pairing of the devil and the sheep?

 After another workshop, I recall a CEO observing, “I get written reports all the time.  But these drawings give me a clearer sense of what’s really going on in the trenches.”  Perhaps a vivid picture that provides a wide perspective can induce a “higher truth.”

 Which brings us to the second Picasso Paradox:  As the devil vs. sheep picture illustrates art may create exaggerations and even absurd illusions.  Art may also heighten emotional identification by placing oppositional tension in a familiar and/or novel or surprising psychological and situational context.  The viewer sees images and ideas from a new perspective or through a new framework.  Artful opposition can readily bring to the surface and into focus the psychic underground.  Art may well reveal or clarify a higher, wider and/or deeper as well as more daring emotional truth.


Closing Summary


Using being hip as a launching pad, this article has highlighted “Seven Hip and Creative Purposes and Payoffs of Oppositional Thinking”:

1. Question the Conventional or Expressively Disrupt the Commonplace or Status Quo

2. See Spatial-Psychological Relationships, Including Both Sides to Achieve Multiple or Mature Perspective

3. Generate a Broader and Deeper, a More Novel and Complex Perspective

4. Perceive Shades of Gray

5. Stimulate Creative Confusion

6. Reveal a Paradoxical or Higher Truth

7. Encourage Daring and Defiance

 Learning to think in oppositional categories, to see multiple facets and to integrate contradiction and seemingly scattered ideas and elements is a powerful tool for challenging habits and assumptions, taking on “sacred cows,” and perceiving and conceptualizing with real imagination and boldness.  It’s a psycho-spatial-relational framework for exploring, realizing and expressing your fullest self.  Oppositional processing is a vital pathway to being cool and creative and perhaps equally important it’s your passport for learning how to…Practice Safe Stress!


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a) Really Hot:  The Paperback Version of Practice Safe Stress:

Practicing Safe Stress:  Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout, & Depression; Stress Doc Enterprises

Published:  2004; Pages:  372

Price:  $20 + $5.00 priority shipping in US; $7 for shipping in Mexico and Canada; other international destinations to be determined

E-book Price:  $15

Practice Safe Stress tackles the "Toxic-Traumatic Trio" -- stress, burnout, and depression.  Learn practical and playful, inspiring and insightful strategies for transforming these toxins into life-affirming energy, creative focus, and goal-achievement.  Bringing a personal, professional, and organizational perspective, the book is alive with imaginative language and memorable "how to" ideas for:

§ Understanding the "Four Stages of Burnout," the "Erosive Spiral"
§ Rebuilding your fire and developing "Natural SPEED"
§ Achieving liberation through "Emancipation Procrastination"
§ Reducing conflict as a healing or motivational "psychohumorist" ™

There are satirical essays on "lean-and-MEAN" managers and on mismanaged downsizings.  Learn to "laugh in the face of layoffs" and ponder the possibility of "Van Gogh, Prozac, and Creativity."  The Stress Doc also shares his his own trials, errors, and triumphs in battling the "Toxic Trio."

Safe Stress provides many discrete "Top Ten" lists and "strategic tips" essays useful as educational/informational handouts.  To quote the Internet Newsroom:  Your Guide to the World of Electronic Factgathering:  "The most outstanding feature…is his 'psychohumor' essays.  Always witty, thought-provoking, and helpful."  With this easy-to-follow, fast-paced, and fun health and wellness guide, you'll return often to Practice Safe Stress.

b) The Four Faces of Anger:  Model and Method
Transforming Anger, Rage and Conflict Into Inspiring Attitude and Behavior

The "Four Faces of Anger" presents an elegantly simple yet intellectually powerful model that will challenge your beliefs about anger -- both regarding its range of emotion and its potential for positive communication.  The book is a dynamic blend of popular psychohumor articles, essays, case examples and short vignettes, as well as Stress Doc Q & As and even "Shrink Rap" ™ lyrics.  You will gain ideas and tools, skills and techniques for personal control, playful intervention and conflict mastery.  Learn to:

Ø Identify self-defeating styles of anger and violence-prone personalities
Ø Transform hostility and rage into assertion and passion
Ø Confront directly or disarm outrageously critics and (passive) aggressors
Ø Bust the guilt not burst a gut
Ø Prevent emails from becoming e-missiles

And finally, his years as a multimedia psychotherapist and as a Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service yield a survival and spiritual mantra at the heart of the "Four Faces of Anger":

Seek the higher power of Stress Doc humor…May the Farce Be With You!

Published:  2004; Pages:  116  [Book size:  9"x12"]

Paperback:  Price:  $20 + $5.00 priority shipping in US; $7 for shipping in Mexico and Canada; other international destinations to be determined

E-Book:  $15

Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™,
is a psychotherapist and "Motivational Humorist" whose Interactive Keynotes and Kickoffs draw wide and "amazing" acclaim - from Fortune 100s and Federal Agencies to around the world with Celebrity Cruise Lines.   An OD/Team Building Consultant, Mark is the author of Practice Safe Stress:  Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression and of The Four Faces of Anger: Transforming Anger, Rage, and Conflict Into Inspiring Attitude and Behavior.  Also, the Doc is AOL's "Online Psychohumorist" ™ running his weekly "Shrink Rap ™ and Group Chat."  See his award winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com (cited as a workplace resource by National Public Radio (NPR).  Finally, Mark is an advisor to The Bright Side ™ -- www.the-bright-side.org -- a multi-award winning mental health resource.  Email for his monthly newsletter showcased on List-a-Day.com.  For more info on the Doc's speaking and training programs and products, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 301-946-0865.

(c)  Mark Gorkin  2006

Shrink Rap Productions