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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Corey Booker: 'DO Something!'

     The young Corey Booker had a Yale law degree and a lot of spunk, but he eventually ran out of gas as his fellow city councilors squashed anything he tried to do.

     They had had enough of his in-your-face campaign against the poverty, corruption and general disaster of New Jersey’s Newark. He had confronted his fellow politicians too vigorously and too often.

     So, depressed and emotionally shot, visiting one of the city’s worst drug-dealing areas, he ran into a woman from the area who had been an active opponent in many public forums.

     She, seeing his dispirited state, gave him a reassuring hug. I can’t remember the story well enough to say whether he asked for her advice, or if she just volunteered it:

     “DO something!”

     Big deal. No ideas, no brilliant solution, no offer of help – just an unadorned statement that smacks of a demand. Maybe something of an accusation.

     I have no idea what process that triggered in Booker’s psyche, but he did something.

     He bought a tent and pitched it there in that hell of drugs and violence. He lived there, and went on a hunger strike that lasted days. He was desperate, and he couldn’t think of anything else to do.

     He did something. And attracted attention. Then it worked. 

     After a while, people started to come to see him in his tented, hungry place. The mayor came, the long-serving guy who some years later would lose his job to Booker. Services came into the neighborhood. Things began to turn around.

     A process started up that day. Not quickly and easily, but maybe inevitably, it progressed to a point where it now displays that man, Corey Booker, in the United States Senate.

     The story doubtless has more to it, but the tent and the fasting in the face of a hopeless situation represents a lesson for all of us. Do something, however little it may seem to relate to solving the problem of the moment.

     Many of us can, on occasion, become entangled to the point of indecision. The gravity of our situation might be well short of Booker’s, but we can be just as paralyzed.

     Too many choices can be as daunting as too few. When the perceived pain of various options equals the estimated cost of inaction, handwringing progresses to apathy.

     Those of us addicted to logic and mature thought are as vulnerable in this regard as anyone else – perhaps more so. Preparation, certitude and energy can carry you just so far, if acceptance and support don’t come in sufficient measure to feed progressive success.  

     What’s the solution? Do something.

     The first something to do when nothing can be done is to dissipate the psychology of defeat. You’re not beaten until you say so, no matter what the score is. Emotion is a large component of attitude. Getting active, almost without regard to how you get active, gives an immediate boost to energy and optimism.

      So one something you can do is create a do-something state of mind. One option is to pursue an idea generation process that seems irrelevant but actually can be very productive: Brainstorming.

     Brainstorming, done even moderately well, produces a fresh point of view even if there are few usable ideas – or none at all. It is impossible to view a matter the same after you have invented and heard all kinds of ways to overcome it, some of them ridiculous.  

     You might also go talk to people who have some connection or knowledge, not about solutions necessarily, but just about the subject in general. Stay alert. Your contacts might open an insight without even knowing they’re doing it.

     Interview experts. Read books and check out videos. Don’t be narrow. You’re looking to trigger new perspectives, not find prepackaged answers.

     The human brain has amazing, limitless possibilities. Among them is the ability to comb its enormous stores of your past sights, sounds and feelings . . . then assemble them into coherent responses in response to the conscious mind.

     So you have no way of knowing what might result from presenting that marvelous resource with a challenge.

     There’s one way to find out. DO something.

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