SHOULD THAT BE "STUFF HAPPENS" OR "SHIT HAPPENS?"
On April 11, 2003 Donald Rumsfeld, when ask about the widespread looting in Baghdad, said, “STUFF HAPPENS. It’s untidy, and freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.”
But, did you ever ask yourself what inspired Donald Rumsfeld to use the phrase, “Stuff happens” in the first place? I must make the point that the book “STUFF HAPPENS,” written by motivational speaker John Alston and myself was published and released to book stores February 14, 2003 almost two months before Rumsfeld made his “Stuff happens” remark.
Consequently, we like to think that he made the remark because he had read our book. We did send him a copy. Maybe if he hadn’t read the book, he would have said, “Shit happens” instead. We all know “Shit happens” is what he meant. And, you have to admit, at the time it would have been much more effective. Our book gave him a better idea. You think?
John and I actually finished writing the book just before 9/11 happened. Our literary agents didn’t want to take it to New York and present it to the many publishing houses at that time because they didn’t want to give the impression we had written it BECAUSE of 9/11. We held it back for almost a year. Perhaps if the title had been “SHIT HAPPENS” it would have been more apropos for what was actually happening.
Rumsfeld's comment also inspired David Hare to write his hit play about the war in Iraq. He named it “STUFF HAPPENS.” It stars Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and, yes, Donald Rumsfeld.
So, why did we name our book “STUFF HAPPENS” when everyone knew we meant “SHIT HAPPENS?”
Fact: at first we did name it “SHIT HAPPENS.” But people laughed every time we mentioned the title and we started to lose our nerve. Someone said that it sounded like a bumper sticker. After all, this is a serious “self-help” book. “STUFF HAPPENS” gives the reader 9 reality rules to live by in order to prepare them for bad stuff happening in their lives so they will be able to “Fix it.”
Reluctantly, we changed the title to “$#&@* Happens,” thinking the use of cartoon symbols for the objectionable S-word would soften the blow and convey the same message. Our first cover design also used a fertilizer bag with the suggestion, “Use It To Grow.”
The idea here was that $#&@* makes things grow. So if $#&@* happens to you, take advantage of it. Use it to make yourself grow and rid yourself of all that bad $#&@*. Very clever - if I do say so myself.
However, we ran into a snag right away (shit happened). Our publisher, the prestigious John Wiley and Sons in New York, had a problem with that approach. Matt Holt, our editor and wonderful mentor at Wiley, posed the question “How is a book store going to sell your book if the salesperson can’t even say the title, “$#&@* Happens?” How will you be able to promote it on radio using Asterisks? You can’t use the word “SHIT.” The station could possibly be fined.” Good points all around.
Even though Amazon.com lists thousands of books with “Shit” in the title, i.e., “How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art,” by Kathleen Meyer, and “Up Shit Creek: A Collection of Horrifyingly True Wilderness Toilet Misadventures” by Joe Lindsay, we decided that Matt was right and we finally agreed to, “STUFF HAPPENS – and then you fix it.” After all, everybody knew exactly what we were saying anyway. Their design department came up with a winning cover and we were off and running.
Good stuff was happening. Jack Canfield, coauthor of “Chicken Soup for the Soul” (over 70 million copies sold) wrote the introduction in which he said “Every once in a while a book comes along that is both simple in its presentation and profound in its impact. This is such a book.”
“STUFF HAPPENS – and then you fix it” was indorsed by Jerry Lewis, Dick Clark, Film Director John Badham (Saturday Night Fever), James Brown (The Godfather of Soul), Mark Victor Hansen (“Chicken Soup for the Soul” and “The One Minute Millionaire”), and many other prominent and thoughtful people. They most likely would not have done the same for some little book titled “SHIT HAPPENS.”
Right after publication, and shortly after the war on terror began; we sent a first edition of “STUFF HAPPENS – and then you fix it” to George W. Bush. I don’t think he read it. At least, not the “and then you fix it” part. If he had, who knows what might have happened?
However, I can’t help but think that it might have changed history if we had not changed our original title.
With Rumsfeld now out, we will probably never know.
History, as always, will be the judge.