Vik Kanyo and Mick G recently sent me a story from The Guardian.
In North Carolina a 59 year old man lost his job.
What made it worse was this meant he lost his health insurance.
And he began to suffer from a bad back, caused by a slipped disc.
He also began getting a lot of pain from arthritis in his joints.
But worst of all, he discovered a growth in his chest.
This is seriously worrying at the best of times, with no health insurance it’s terrifying.
He was at his wit’s end.
He had to get medical treatment, no matter what.
Everything else paled into insignificance: embarrassment, legality, what people thought of him.
He had one priority, everything else was stripped away.
Strangely enough, in a situation like that it’s actually easier to be creative.
George Tannenbaum tells the story of George Washington reaching this point.
He’d been beaten by the British, he was in retreat, at absolute bottom, with nowhere to go.
Suddenly he saw what he needed to do to turn things around.
He had reached, in his own words, “The clarity of despair.”
This man had reached that same point.
Nothing to lose.
So he walked into a bank in North Carolina.
He walked up to the counter and handed the clerk a note.
It said “This is a bank robbery. Please give me exactly one dollar.”
The clerk wasn’t sure what to do.
The man didn’t seem to have a gun.
He didn’t look or act like a bank robber.
Who asks for a single dollar?
But the clerk had never faced a situation like this before.
He thought the best thing to do was play it safe.
So he gave the man a dollar.
The man said “When the police come, I’ll be sitting on that bench over there.”
And he went and sat down.
Eventually the police arrived and arrested him.
He was polite and co-operative, and he seemed relieved.
The reason soon became clear.
Once he was in police custody he explained to them all about his medical problems.
The police have to make sure every prisoner is healthy of course.
So they took him to the hospital and arranged tests and consultations straight away.
All his medical conditions now became the police’s problem to sort out.
The man got the treatment he needed, without health insurance.
Plus which, he won’t go to prison.
The view of the prosecutor is that stealing a dollar is not a custodial offence.
He will probably get probation.
In which case, his gets continued medical care for his condition.
All in all, a good result.
As the man said himself “I am of sound mind. I’m just not of sound body.”
He’s moved from a condition where absolutely everything seemed to be going wrong.
Where everything was doom and gloom and misery.
To a situation where everything looks much brighter.
Simply by taking action to change things.
Action which would seem inconceivable to most people.
Action which wasn’t even on the radar until he got to the absolute bottom.
Where he had no way out, no hope, and no choice.
There he’d reached “The clarity of despair.”
The knowledge that anything at all was better than where he was.
Nothing could be worse than this.
So he made something happen.
Something no sane person would do, something crazy.
But this guy was desperate.
In the words of Bob Dylan “When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”
The ‘clarity of despair’ is the point of real creativity.
Although personally, I prefer the word ‘desperation’ to the word ‘despair’.
It suggests action.
In fact the dictionary defines desperation as ‘leading to rash and hasty action”.
I’d agree with that.
When we’re desperate, when we have to think fast, we have to get our priorities organized straight away.
We don’t have time to get sidetracked by trivialities.
Trivialities like “What will other people think?”
We get really focused on the essentials.
That’s when we have “The clarity of desperation”.