Yes, yes, yes.
I've been fixated on the word "yes" for the past few days, ever since hearing some radio pundit discussing Tina Fey, whose sitcom "30 Rock" ended its run last week with a gush of praise for its presiding genius.
Whoever the radio talker was — is your mind, too, a mush of things half-heard on the radio? — mentioned Fey's theory of yes. He did not elaborate on what that theory was.
It was the first time I'd encountered Tina Fey's theory of yes, but not the first time I'd bumped into a self-help theory of that tiny word. The first time was a couple of years ago while watching an interview with some actress in which she said that she had turned her life around by learning to say yes.
You know how once you hear an idea or word for the first time you start to hear it everywhere? After that actress testified to the power of yes, I started hearing testaments to yes everywhere.
Yes to opportunity. Yes to possibility. Yes to change and challenge. Oui, oui, oui to life. Do not just say no.
The other day it came out of my mouth, too. "I'm a believer in saying yes and seeing what happens," I heard myself say after agreeing to do something I wasn't at all sure I should agree to.
I'm a believer in yes? Really? I'm not a believer in parroting pop-culture phrases, but sometimes there is no escape.
It's hard to figure out when "yes" became shorthand for the power of positive thinking. If Wikipedia is a guide, it can be traced back at least as far as the 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
"I do not want to wage war against what is ugly," he once wrote. "I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer."
Between Nietzsche and now, saying yes has become an industry. As I went in search of Tina Fey's theory of yes, I found countless yes promoters.
There are books ("Saying Yes to Life") and magazines ("Yes!") and self-help programs ("30 Days of Yes"). The "power of yes" is a favorite phrase of life coaches, writers, hypnotists, clerics and motivational speakers.
Yes isn't just for humans, either. (The Say Yes Dog Training website affirms: "Here at 'Say Yes,' we live in the land of 'do.' In traditional dog training, we were told in order to get a dog to stop doing something, we should tell them 'no.'")
Tina Fey's theory of yes, it turns out, applies to improv comedy (respond to your partner's line by saying, "Yes") and to the rest of life. She wrote about it in her autobiography, "Bossypants," and also in O The Oprah Magazine.
As she recounts in O, she was packing up her Chicago apartment, preparing to move to New York, when she stumbled across a folder on which she'd scribbled notes from a class she'd taken at Second City. Her scribbles included lines from her teacher. One was "Greet everything with 'Yes, and ...'" Another was "The fun is always on the other side of a yes."
She translated the rules of improv into rules of living.
"'Say yes, and you'll figure it out afterward' has helped me to be more adventurous," she wrote. "It has definitely helped me be less afraid."
A good theory? Don't make me say it.