Quite a while back, I recounted the saga of Boaty McBoatface, the British polar research vessel that was christened by an internet poll (Awwww!) only to have the name rejected as frivolous by the Powers That Be (Booo!). The decision disappointed lovers of silliness and members of the media – or is there a distinction? – who had to settle for the minor victory of calling the craft “also known as…” in every relevant story and online posting from here until the Sun flames out.
But! There has been a new development!
We take you now to Stockholm, where Reuters reports that a Swedish railway operator has named one of its trains through a public poll. The train operator publicly embraced the new name, which is … yes, really … Trainy McTrainface.
And no, this was not a reluctant bowing to the ever-strange mind of the internet. If anything, MTR Express gloated in a statement that, where Britain had ignored the voice of the people, this newly chosen name “will be welcomed by many, not just in Sweden.”
All that was missing was Ringo Starr to do the narration, accompanied by a certain tank engine theme song. (And if you didn’t want that earworm in your head … oops.)
OK, it’s ridiculous. It’s not going to bring justice, health care, and a free copy of the works of Elvis Presley to every human being on the globe. But if it brings a chuckle and a smile for just a minute, that’s not to be despised.
In fact, I’ll go beyond that. It shows how powerful a force simple joy can be.
We’ve seen the opposite for a while. Anger can rally people. Fear can make them huddle together against a perceived foe or danger. Suspicion can fuel talk, and theorizing, and endless opportunities for those with an agenda to promote. After a while, it becomes a feedback cycle, a circle that draws ever tighter against a seemingly threatening world.
The trouble is, it’s hard to build anything when your fists are clenched. Anger and fear provide plenty of enemies to defeat, but little to raise in their place. It’s a hunger that always needs to be fed, so that anyone could migrate from “us” to “them” with little warning, from a wielder of the weapon to its newest target. Even in the less intense cases, it’s fatiguing to always be looking over your shoulder … or even harmful, if it means you don’t see a crack in the sidewalk.
Building requires wonder.
It needs a desire to explore and consider the different.
It responds to hands that are open to tools, minds that are open to questions, lives that are open to the possibility of something that hasn’t been there before.
It may even need a bit of the cockeyed. Puns work (as much as they do) because someone can see two meanings of a word at once. Ideas work because someone can see two states of being at once – what’s in the world now, and what could be.
That’s how you build ideas, companies, inventions, stories, nations. And at its best, it sparks a joy and enthusiasm that can carry multitudes in its wake.
Not every idea will be good. Not every dream will bear fruit. But all of it can open a door to conversation instead of throwing up a wall.
“Don’t just tell me the quarterback sucks – tell me who should be playing.”
“Don’t just tell me the program won’t work – tell me what would work better.”
“Don’t just tell me the story doesn’t speak to you – help me craft one that can.”
It can be silly. It can be profound. But if it’s building joy instead of sapping hope, then we’re on the right track.
Even if it’s an unusual McTrain of thought.