Why so serious?

Like many people I was astounded when Donald Trump was elected to the office of President of the United States. I don’t know him personally, but he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy that the majority of Americans – the kind I know, anyway – would want to have as their commander-in-chief.

I was surprised to discover that America is divided. There are those whom I previously thought to be in the majority – and maybe they are – but there are those who appear at present to hold nearly 50% of the popular vote and thus, by rules that are beyond me, were able to elect Mr. Trump.

The people who elected Mr. Trump are a serious lot. Mr. Trump is a serious person. Serious people tend to focus on problems rather than solutions.

Solutions usually engender humour. I first learned this from Edward De Bono 1: humour is the emotion that occurs when you connect two things that you previously did not realize were connected. This is what solutions are all about. So you usually feel happy – you may even laugh – when you come up with a solution.

I guess that’s it. The Americans I know and love are a creative people. They fix things and they laugh. Barack Obama is such a man.

There is a changing of the guard. The creative people have had their day. Bring on the serious ones.

This came to mind when I stopped at the grocery store this morning. As I was parking I noticed a woman returning her shopping cart to the “cart corral”. The cart corral has a ridge at its entrance to prevent carts from escaping. It also, unfortunately, can prevent carts from entering. The woman, perhaps wanting to save time, aimed her cart at the cart corral, imparted what she thought was sufficient momentum, and turned back to her car –

– (I had a sudden flashback to my old Scout Leader, Wheezy. He was late for a meeting once. He came striding into the conference room, removed his winter jacket, pressed it against the wall behind his chair, as if hanging it on a hook, and turned away and sat down quickly before his coat fell to the ground.)

The cart bounced. It followed the woman back to her car. She didn’t notice: she was blithely carrying on with her day.

This is one of hundreds of opportunities that occur daily, where you can choose a serious response, or a playful one.

I responded playfully. I grabbed the cart and took it back to the corral. My plan was to secure it in the corral without the woman’s noticing. She could carry on with her day, believing that she had safely returned her cart, and I could enjoy the private joke of having been the “unseen hand” that makes the world work.

It almost worked.

A man in a pickup truck ruined my joke. He saw the cart bounce too. He drove over to the woman, rolled down his window, and told her off. “See where you’ve left your cart!” he yelled. The woman, noticing me, said, “It’s okay. He’s going to put it away for me.” The man, ever serious, said, “It was your cart! You should put it away!”

And of course he was right. But my solution would have been fun.

Sigh. Four years of seriousness ahead.
1(1970). Lateral Thinking: A Textbook of Creativity. New York: Harper and Row.

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