Writing :: Humor/Entertainment

The Wisdom of Dr. Jeffrey Gladstone- page 3

You were a wandering minstrel.

You were a Labrador retriever named Sooty Cinders from Straw Hollow and you lived in Amber Valley, Vermont, at the turn of the century.

This is your first life. Sorry. Total blank from the past.

You were Joseph Kennedy’s father in Ireland.

I believe that you studied biophysics in Eastern Europe in the early 1800s, but soon gave that up and became a bouncer at a bistro in Paris.

You invented wallpaper.

G: You were a leopard in Samoa, but you were eaten by a tribesman who mistook you for his cousin, whom he detested violently. That tribesman was known for his progressive myopia and lived in ridicule for mistaking a leopard for his cousin, who was clearly pear-shaped.

You ate with your hands too much in your past life.

Then Gladstone went on to expound about the way people can make changes in their lives:

G: I would like to impart some wisdom on how people can change when they have run aground – when self-control has totally failed. I believe that in any situation where people react compulsively – they might argue, or overeat, or eat shaving cream – there is a key moment of choice. Maybe just for a second, when you look back on it, you see some alternatives. For example, if someone says to you, "You are a disgusting and malignant tumor on the body of humankind," perhaps your tendency is to become instantly enraged and to engulf your tormentor into a Bruno Sammartino half-nelson, all but choking the life breath out of him or her. Now wouldn’t you like to be able to restrain yourself, so that this remark might only engender a slight balling of the fists and perhaps cause you to raise your eyes skyward, while whistling the Canadian national anthem? Wouldn’t you like to have a choice? Or course you would. The trick is to focus on another avenue of sensory information at the moment of impulse. If the person’s words are triggering your normal reaction, look immediately at his or her chin: is it single or double or even multiple? Stare intently at the chin while he or she is speaking. Then you will discover that there are other plans of action, the best of which might well be "My God, your chin is ugly!" of "Did you know you have a wart under your second chin?"

G: You know Harry, it is quite important to change your attitude toward mistakes. One way to do this is to imagine a broad context in which your mistakes are not problematic. For example, if you are having an allergic attack at a wedding and are sneezing quite violently and with great frequency, you might feel ill at ease and wish everyone would stop looking at you. But the trick is to immediately broaden the context – you could imagine that the entire scene is taking place on 5th Avenue in New York City. There are riveters behind you breaking through the sidewalk. There are muggers grabbing the bouquet. Dogs are sullying the grounds. Cars are honking their horns, people are screaming obscenities of every conceivable variety to each other, and a lone unshaven man is talking to himself about the Vikings and the return of Leif Erikson. Then your sneezing is a drop in the bucket, barely perceptible. Now of course, we know that we cannot order up such a scene a la Fantasy Island. But by merely imagining it, we will relax our bodies to the point where the allergic shock will cease to bother us: we will not tense up against it and unwittingly prolong it. And we will have a beatific smile on our faces as we go through this entire process. Probably the vibes we give off will be so good that everyone will feel warmed in spite of the sneezing. Maybe years later, the bride and groom will refer back to this even and smile gently to each other: "Remember when Dr. Jeffrey lost control at the wedding? I don’t know why, but it made me feel so special." Perhaps this will create a new phenomenon -- guest sneezers at all weddings. After all, this is how the creative process works: out of the ashes of obnoxious blunders come new possibilities.

S: And I understand that you have done a lot of work in the area of creativity. Can you comment on some of your more profound insights so that people can understand how they can become more creative.

G: Hi Harry, good to be here. You look at me quizzically as if that remark was a non-sequitur. But this is a partial answer to you query. I was experiencing a newness in talking with you, so I let it out by telling you "good to be here". That is the first key to becoming more creative: express yourself even if you might appear a bit peculiar.

S: (chuckling) Glad to have you, Dr. Jeffrey. Continue.

G: Thank you Harry. Good to be here. Becoming more creative requires that you alter the sequence of your actions to shake things up. Then you select new behaviors from the disruption that you have caused. I will illustrate.

S: Please do.

G: For example, we tend to fall into fixed sequences of focusing when we are involved in a particular activity. Suppose I am a personnel officer at a large holding company involving the importing of porcelain vases from the Ming and Ping dynasties. Perhaps I have the following rigid pattern of shifting my attention: when I interview somebody, I might begin by noticing my visceral reactions (perhaps I have butterflies in the stomach, or a mild gastroenteritis induced by yesterday’s Pizza Hut binge) and then shifting to gazing at the client (looking to see if he or she has translucent skin or counting the number of chins he or she has) and then asking a routine question (What is your name? Your sun sign?) to an abstract one (when else have you felt this way?); you might find yourself periodically going from one friendly questioning (do you enjoy erotic shows?) to inquisitive and probing questioning (was your mother grossly overweight?). To become more creative, you must vary the sequence of maneuvers – this will open you up to more imaginative possibilities. For instance, you might now begin with an inquisitive question such as "Did your father spit his chewing tobacco on you when you were four years old, thus accounting for your obvious fear of men?" and then ask "What is your name?", finally looking at the person meaningfully, gazing at their chins, counting them out loud in French or Spanish, You will then begin to think of creative responses: the right things to say will come to you.

Another key is to maintain the balance between similarities and differences: you want to see where a certain experience is similar in structure to others and also probe its uniqueness. Let me illustrate how you can come up with creative responses to people who complain about life. Suppose a friend tells you that his wife has divorced him, that he has lost his job, that his car was stolen, and that his left leg might have to be amputated to reduce his stress level. First you listen attentively and indicate how unusual all this is, acknowledging it with statements like "My God, that is a hideous configuration of conspiratorial events whose sheer weight must make you feel as if you were buried under an overwhelming mound of excrement" and "There is no justice in the world; you are the victim of the most heinous combination of circumstances imaginable to anyone with an IQ of over 43." But then you must prevent this individual from feeling too isolated in his pain and start to stress the similarities: "On one level, this is similar to what I went through last month when my wife and I argued about how much to pay the babysitter. The argument, if extended to its logical limit, would have clearly resulted in divorce; and you know what else? I saw one of my neighbors drooling over my new Trans-Am – I knew that if he lacked proper self-control or wavered for an instant, he would steal my car; and yesterday, I had this muscle spasm in my left leg; I bet that if I had given in to it, I might have fallen down the stairs and required an immediate amputation. So I know what you’re going through."

G: You can also fantasize additional differences. In this situation, you can come up with "You could be even worse off. You could be losing both your legs. Or your wife could have shot you. Or the car could have exploded with you in it." In this way, you are providing your friend with a broader context. But this is very sensitive stuff. Sometimes, you just have to guess what to do. For instance, if someone arrives at your house and within two minutes, begins weeping hysterically, clinging to your sports jacket and screaming "My kids are driving me nuts; they always fight", you can respond in two different creative ways -- you can superemphasize the similarities by saying that "mine do too; let’s glue all our kids together with crazy glue and make them work out their problems while we go off on a Caribbean vacation of indeterminate length." Or you can overemphasize the differences by remarking that "Yes, they are the worst children the world has ever seen; what a burden on you to have them; they fight like wild cheetahs; my advice to you is to threaten them with biurnal enemas."

S: That is fascinating. Earlier when we were talking during the commercial break, you mentioned that you had discovered ways to open up people’s perceptions.

G: Hi Harry, good to be here. That is quite correct. I believe that you can learn to become more creative if you discover the edge of ambiguity and let your perceptions bounce feely on either side of it. Allow me to explain.

S: Please do, Dr. Jeffrey.

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