Creative Maladjustment

Ever since I was a girl I have believed that the future leaders and healers of the world are women. This doesn’t mean that men will no longer lead and heal—of course they will. But there is something in the heart of women that the world needs now. That’s why the “me too” and “times up” movements have taken off. Are they galloping too fast even as they move the cultural dial toward long-overdue changes? Maybe. Do we need to reign in some of the excesses? I believe we do. Can we be more inclusive and less self-righteous? Sure. But change is always messy and imperfect. Women have a bad habit of expecting perfection of ourselves. This would be a good time to relax that tendency!

When I am confused about being an effective and loving agent of change, I often turn to the words of one of the world’s great change-makers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. My favorite speech of his is the one he gave at Illinois Wesleyan University in 1966. It is often called the “Double Victory” speech, because in it he says that when you put love and non-violence into action, in the long run your victory will also be the victory for your opponent, because compassionate action makes everyone rise to the heights of their better angels. In that speech, Dr. King coins a phrase I love. He says that while we should all strive to be relatively happy, secure, and well-adjusted people, there are some things we should never adjust to—things like bigotry, injustice, and violence. Instead he says we should practice “creative maladjustment.”

I read Dr. King’s speeches over and over—his book of collected speeches, A Knock at Midnight—is one of my go-to books when I need one of those wake-up knocks in the midnight of my own fears and confusion. Normally you don’t think of Dr. King as a comic, but actually there are some funny lines in many of his speeches. In the Double Victory speech he says, “Maybe our world is in dire need of a new organization, the International Association for the Advancement for Creative Maladjustment.”

In the me-too era, I would like to start a chapter of that organization for anyone who wants to remain maladjusted to sexism in all of its forms. The meetings will have only three rules. First, no complaining. The opposite of creativity is complaining. We all know what’s wrong; let’s save our energy for cooking up visionary, bold, and creative alternatives. Second rule: Be brave. It takes courage to be openly, vocally, and steadfastly maladjusted. But it also takes the third rule: Be patient. Courage without patience can turn into blind aggression. Before you know it, you become the very type of intolerant person you have been railing against. So if we all want to live in a world where people are not hobbled and harmed because of their gender or race or nationality or beliefs, I think its strategic to keep our eyes on the double victory, and our hearts open even toward those with whom we deeply disagree. Dr. King ends the Double Victory speech with his famous line about the arc of the moral universe being long, and yet it bends toward justice. Creative maladjustment is a long-arc strategy.