It began when I happened on an article describing Yoko Ono's contribution to an art exhibit in Venice. On a very large gallery wall was a lone, tiny white piece of paper, with these typed words: "Try to say nothing negative about anybody a) for three days b) for 45 days c) for three months. See what happens to your life."
I was intrigued.
I taped Yoko's entry to my fridge, next to family photos and general fridge-door clutter, and reread it and mused about it for weeks. Something about this seemed just too enticing not to try.
It went like this: I decided one evening to begin the challenge the next morning. Then, after the usual morning rush of breakfast and seeing people off to school, I sat with my husband over tea, discussing work and the day to come, and before I knew it, there it was -- a negative comment about someone would just slip out of me.
After several days' attempts, I began to seriously worry about my character. It seemed I couldn't even get past 9 a.m.
I gave up trying, but kept that little clipping on my fridge.
Sometime later, while out of town, I came down with a nasty respiratory bug. Not wanting to spread it to anyone, I locked myself in my hotel room alone for the day. About 4 that afternoon, it occurred to me that I hadn't said anything negative about anyone all day. I realized, of course, this was because I had not spoken to anyone all day. Nevertheless, this felt like momentum -- encouragement, almost. I felt empowered to try Yoko's challenge again. (Perhaps sometimes motivation can come from the most unexpected sources)
And so, over the next few days in Boston, I worked hard. At first, I did a lot of tongue-biting. I was humbled and dismayed by how often negative thoughts about someone could slip into my consciousness, but with effort and concentration I was able to stop the words from coming out.
It started to get just a little bit easier on the third day. Fewer negative thoughts were coming, and I wasn't having to work so hard to squelch them when they did.
And then came Day 4. I began to sense a very real qualitative shift in my thinking, perspective, even consciousness. I felt different. I was looking at the
people and world around me just a little bit differently, with a little more peace and clarity and empathy. There was no need to suppress negative thoughts, because here's the thing: They just weren't there.
I was amazed. I could make a shift in my perspective, and indeed perhaps in my very soul, just by changing what I said? This was powerful and exciting. If I could feel this much change in the first few days, what indeed would happen to my life over three months?
Perhaps Thumper was wiser than we realized all those years ago when he mumbled, "If you can't say something nice, don't say nuthin' at all."
On Day 5 I flew home, happy to share with my family my newfound perspective and my excitement in making it through the first step of Yoko's challenge. And then, over the dinner table that evening, someone's name came up. Don't we all have those people who trigger a reaction in us? And I did it -- I blew Day 5 with one comment.
At first. I thought that just meant Day 5 needed a do-over. My family, however, felt differently: I had failed the challenge, and would need to start over on Day 1. They meant it in good fun, but I allowed myself to feel discouraged enough to not begin again.
But now, in writing this and remembering the shift in perspective I experienced on Day 4, I feel inspired to begin this challenge again. This time, however, I will be a little easier on myself. I realize I had overlooked Yoko's very important first word: "Try."
I just need to try. If I trip here and there, I don't need to give up. I can keep going and try again.
It's not just the potential change in myself that is the most motivating here, though. By not spreading negative energy to those around me, by not criticizing others, maybe I can help the world around me to be just a little bit of a nicer and kinder place.
What might happen if a whole community of people gave this a try? Imagine.
Susan Timmins, local business owner, mother and Anna Maria Island resident, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
COMING NEXT SUNDAY: Joan Krauter, executive editor of the Bradenton Herald, writes about growing up in St. Louis -- near the epicenter of racial tensions in Ferguson, Mo.