Is Everything OK?

I discovered a fun fact while doing a bit of research for this column.  One of the most far-reaching expressions in the English language is, OK Even though its origins go back to 1839, its ubiquitous use rival’s today’s text-friendly, LOL (laugh out loud).

“OK” was first used in a Boston Morning Post article as a joke, making fun of misspelling “all correct,” as “all korrect,” then abbreviating it.  The expression was inched up the popularity scale in “Old Kinderhook,” Martin Van Buren’s reelection campaign of 1840.

The word Jeep is a similarly abbreviated misspelling, for a military vehicle known as a “general purpose vehicle,” GP/Jeep. The Humvee was HMMWV or “high-mobility multi-purpose wheeled vehicle.”

“OK” made it into the Slang Dictionary of Vulgar Words in 1864.  OK, and its meaning as everything being all correct or alright, figured prominently in the 1967 Thomas Harris book, “I’m OK, You’re OK,” the most popular self-help guide ever penned.

Don’t we often say, “It’s OK,” when it’s clearly not.  For example, I tell myself it’s okay that I wasted all kinds of ingredients on a failed recipe experiment.  But it’s not.  I’m honestly kind of bummed that that recipe failed and I wasted a ton of money on ingredients, not to mention my energy.  I hate waste.

If somebody screws you over in some interaction, what do you say when they half-heartedly say they’re sorry?  You say, “it’s OK.”  But is it really all, correct?  No, by golly, it’s not OK.

And when someone asks, “are you OK,” usually we feel an obligation to say, “yes.”  I mean, how ungracious to say, “no, I’m not OK.”  And the former question might just be a passing conversation filler not unlike, “how ya doin,” not a genuine inquiry as to your emotional or physical well-being.

The tiniest troubles can pose the biggest threats to our well-being.  For example, I can climb up onto and over a boulder in the woods with little problem.  I can step onto or over a jutting rock, no problem.  But when my foot pounces upon an acorn or the tiniest piece of gravel, ouch.

Our minds and senses constantly scan the environment, checking against memory, for potential threats.  I’m surmising that’s probably why we notice the negative, the bad things that happen, first, and remember them longest, because they’re potential threats, triggering a physical flight or fight response.  Our minds and emotions try to resolve the resulting agitation by trying to “fix it.”

Don’t we just tend to focus on the little foxes and the negative things?  We can have all manner of wonderful things come down the pike toward us, but one negative nonce enters our life and it ruins our day.

Thank God for Facebook, where we post all the glorious stuff in our lives, our best selfies, encouragement, and prayers.  Meanwhile, we keep the disappointments, failures and cuss words to ourselves and quickly delete the photo-duds.

But we quickly dismiss the good things and positivity because they don’t threaten our well-being.  Speaking of well-being, let’s talk about not being OK. 

A year or so ago a certain royal couple, who left their job across the pond and immigrated to her home country, America, attempted, with their celebrity, to de-stigmatize mental illness.  You see, I thought mental illness was out of the closet years ago.

I’ve been wrong before.  Perhaps mental illness is still not on the table for open discussion in 2021.

Anxiety disorders, depression, substance addiction, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder are several mental illnesses which come to mind as prolific in the world today.  One in five people will experience a psychiatric illness, each year. 

These disorders exist on a continuum from what the typical guy calls a normal reaction to a stressful world, to the incapacitating disruption of one’s life.  So, if someone asks you if you’re OK, maybe answer gently but honestly and receive a little help from a friend, as the Beatles sang, you’ll “get by with a little help from your friends.”

In a recent dream I was ticking off a list of one bubble-like, temporary obstacle after another, until I finished the list.  Lo and behold, another list popped up.

Does life imitate art, or is it the other way around?  In creative works of fiction, whether cinematic or written, there is no story plot without at least one obstacle or problem to be overcome. 

The logic would follow that without obstacles, we “have no life” or story with which to enhance the world. How does the narrative of your life give meaning to the lives of others?

We need not feel singled out that we have a problem to overcome or an obstacle in our way.  It’s one of the universals of life, so it seems.

The uniqueness we have as individuals is not that we face obstacles, because we all have to tackle problems.  Our uniqueness lies in what attitude, resources, assistance, and spirit we have stored in the bank of our souls to deal with said obstacles.

Even the games that we play, for fun, for challenge, or for competition, involve beating one obstacle over another until we finish – win or lose.  The satisfaction comes from overcoming one challenge after another and coming out on the other end, alive and kicking.

I want to leave you, in my last column of the year, with the expression, “it’s OK.”  You’ve done it.  You made it through another difficult year and whether you feel it or not, if you did your best, then it’s “all korrect,” everything is OK.

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