Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
September 2013 - Volume 13, No. 9
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When in doubt, Flip It!

Sometimes, when I’m not sure what to think or do in a situation, I’ll do a mental “Flip.” This means turning it upside down in my head - sometimes literally I’ll turn my left hand from a palm up to a palm down position.  Turning something upside down allows a very different view or understanding of what’s going on at the moment. It can keep me from getting stuck in something. It’s a habit I’ve developed of frequently consulting the logical opposite of a given situation. Everything has an opposite; so why not go there to get a different perspective. I recommend it as an excellent mental habit to develop - if only for the possibility of a good laugh.


Although I’ve found no specific research on this, there seems to be a common history among professional comics. Many come from severely dysfunctional families, and to mentally survive, even as children, they learned to internally “flip” the situation - turn it upside down. This not only helps them survive emotionally, but they discover when recounting it to others, the result is often raucous laughter. “You should tell these stories on stage.” So they become a stand-up comic.  

I personally have rich memories of being entertained for hours by some friends with their “growning up Catholic” stories.

The central dynamic of humor consists in this very ‘flipping’ of logic and reality, the result being a spell-breaking that brings healing laughter. It’s almost a neurological thing. (There is, of course, the evil twin, “bully humor,” which flips a situation in a manner that’s purposefully destructive of another person or group, and projecting the same dark “entertainment” as an invitation to bystanders.)

As a political antidote

My father would often comment that in the Germany of the 1930’s, no comic was allowed to perform unless an officer of the government was present (from “The Ministry of Propaganda”). Hitler’s government understood very well the spell-breaking power of the comic, especially when his Third Reich was itself a massive “spell” over the German people. Even today, I’ll look at a “political cartoon” in a newspaper or news magazine, and sometimes shudder at the power of a single (humorous) image.

It can be said that a person who has no humor is 1) in bondage to his or her own evil, and 2) in great danger of projecting it onto others as well. Perhaps that’s why the rich and powerful of a society have long been portrayed as humorless and ugly in “cartoon” representations.

Even in our own time the likes of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert wield a strategic power that the political Right and the corporate world cannot match, other than by spending billions of dollars on nastiness (aka negative advertising).  

So at the mega level of Influencing the Republic it seems to come down to “flip-it power” (humor) vs “the vast profits of unbridled greed.”  


There’s another player on the field to consider. When times are uncertain, when anxiety is on the rise, when security becomes a heightened concern, the proverbial “enemy is at the gates” - the human mind loses its peripheral vision. This loss is both at the physical and mental level. Our vision narrows, we see fewer alternatives. Tunnel vision is easily manipulated by the well-funded fear-mongers. It becomes the era of “homeland security.” If we care to look, we’ve seen it many times before in history - but the wisdom of history takes second place to the terrors and management of personal and national anxiety.  And (our wonderful) pharmaceuticals don’t much broaden the vision, they only lessens the terror.

The Transitions surrounding us

As a country and a culture, we’re going through tremendous transitions. Many of the things we have known will never be the same. Numerous folks who would normally be considering the welfare of the Republic we now find just jockeying for power. It may be soon that the new world “powers” will not be national at all, but rather economic and corporate. And they have no humor. What they do have is embedded influence and trillions of dollars. Already they can readily manufacture anxiety and fear for their own purposes. They even all speak English! Washington and many State houses seem even now helpless under their influence - and I’m certain our own nation is not alone.   

How, in the presence of this new power shift, can we maintain a breadth of vision?  

We need the sharp comic intelligence of our Stewarts and our Colberts, our Rachel Maddows and our Michael Moores. We need those who can flip reality in such a way that we see more clearly. And the ability of an honest laugh is the best barometer. We need those who can “see through” the powers all around us that wish to oppress us to their own fancy - which to my seeing usually bespeaks a dual foundation of greed and idolatry.[1]

Keeping our breadth of vision

And so back to the lowly ability to “flip it.”  (Jon Stewart does it masterfully with that calculated pause of his.)

We need the practiced ability to keep our minds free and flexible. When growing up, my High School did not have a debate team - but even so I was fascinated by the fact that in competition each debater had to develop the ability to argue either side of an issue. That’s another disciplined “flip it,” a long absent art today.  

“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance” (variously attributed). In these days of turmoil and chaos, we need a discipline to maintain our sanity, and not let our own vision and integrity be hijacked. Whether in the face of a crazy family, an uncertain economy, a chaotic workplace, a troublesome relationship, or a nasty election campaign - maintain the inner ability to “flip it” - to not get caught up in a stuck place within. Always check the opposite. And when you can, speak up, or at least laugh.   

It’s been said: If you have only one option, you’re a prisoner. If you have two, you’re in a dilemma. If you have three or more options, you’re beginning to realize the freedom of being a human being. Always keep the inner freedom to “flip it.”  If you see someone else grinning, you know they’ve probably got it too.

Pay attention    


By the way, the practiced “flip-it” skill, can prove most useful and even quite entertaining when dealing with telemarketers and high pressure salespeople. Keep this prowess close to the surface. Your sanity and your freedom (and maybe your bank account) may hang in the balance.   

When “flipping” keep these two rules in mind: 

1)  If you find you’re doing this in anger, stop! You’re only entering “bully” territory.

2)  Remember there are at least two sides to everything. If you’re wrong, it’s still a good rule.


[1] Most if not all spiritual disciplines on this planet save their harshest rebukes against the human proclivity toward greed and idolatry. Greed is that which upsets the balance of abundance in favor of the powerful, leaving others vulnerable to destitution; and idolatry is the making a god of oneself or one’s beliefs. ‘Nuff said.

Comments (1)

  • Flip Flops

    I am really looking forward to these newsletters! I appreciated
    this one especially because I love to laugh. I do notice that
    many times when I laugh at silly inconsequential things, I am alone in
    my laughter (hence the “flop”.) People are very serious.
    I wish you had given me an example or two.
    Again...I appreciate these articles! Thank you

    — christina, 9/4/2013

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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