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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Semper Gumby


When serving in the Marine Corps between 1996 and 2007, I frequently heard the axiom “Semper Gumby.” As the motto of the Corps is “Semper Fidelis,” Latin for always (semper) faithful (fidelis), the adjunct phrase referenced a popular character from my childhood.


For context, one source states:


Gumby is a green clay humanoid character created and modeled by Art Clokey, who also created Davey and Goliath. Gumby has been the subject of a 233-episode series of American television as well as a feature-length film and other media. Since the original series’ run, he has become well known as an example of stop motion clay animation and an influential cultural icon, spawning many tributes and parodies, including a video game and toys.


Gumby’s composition of clay made him malleable. Therefore, “Semper Gumby” served as an axiom related to remaining always flexible. This is because day-to-day, and sometimes minute-to-minute, operations of the Corps were dynamic (ever-changing).


One moment, we were required to train according to a standardized method. The next moment, that standard would change and without little rationale for the alteration.


If Marines inflexibly adhered to the original training requirement, they could upset themselves with irrational beliefs regarding the change. I suspect you’re familiar with a course of actions that results in needless suffering, as well.


From the perspective of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I understand that the process of self-disturbance is attributed to the four major irrational beliefs. They are as follows:


Demandingness – “Standard operating procedures [SOPs] should never change!”


Awfulizing – “It’s awful trying to keep up with constantly changing SOPs!”


Low frustration tolerance – “I can’t stand how frequently SOPs change!”


Global evaluations – “The Marine Corps is bullshit for its continually changing SOPs!”


Rigid demands such as these aren’t helpful when the Corps inevitably changes its varying standards. When thinking of rigidity of this sort, I consider what would happen if the flexible Gumby character were placed into a vat of liquid nitrogen.


According to one source, “Liquid nitrogen is a chemical that is extremely cold, about -328°F (-200°C). Liquid nitrogen will instantly freeze anything it touches.”


As was the case in junior high school when a physical science teacher placed a banana in a container of liquid nitrogen and then it shattered to pieces when he removed the fruit and slammed it on a countertop, I suspect a rigid Gumby character would suffer the same fate.


This imaginative exercise illustrates the impact of inflexible beliefs. When people cling to rigid assumptions and refuse to bend, the consequences of unfavorable beliefs may fracture elements of their response to the rigidity of their unhelpful attitudes.


REBT theory uses the ABC model to illustrate how when Activating events (“Actions”) occur and people maintain irrational Beliefs about the events, these unhelpful assumptions – and not the actual occurrences – are what create unpleasant cognitive, emotive, bodily sensation, and behavioral Consequences.’


Therefore, when SOPs frequently changed and a Marine used one of the four major irrational beliefs, it was the individual’s assumption and not the standard change itself that led to unpleasant consequences such as irritability. As such, a Semper Gumby approach may’ve been more helpful.


Also popular during my childhood were Saturday Night Live (SNL) sketches wherein comedian Eddie Murphy played the role of an inflexible Gumby. My older sister and I would stay up late to laugh at how Gumby was portrayed.

Photo credit, property of NBC and Peacock, fair use


In one SNL episode, Gumby is waiting for the arrival of his sidekick (a horse named Pokey), as a man attempts to calm the inflexible version of Gumby. The scene begins thusly:


Gumby: Where is he? He’s late again, right? He’s late again, right!? Where is he, dammit?


Man: He’s gonna be here. Just a few minutes, he’ll be here.


Gumby: Why am I here? Why am I here!? Why am I here working with this no-talent, drunken, hypochondriac horse? That nag could not get a job on a merry-go-round!


Hypothetically, Gumby’s rigidity was fueled by the irrational belief, “Pokey should be on time and I can’t stand when he isn’t!” As a result of this unproductive assumption, the character disturbed himself into an angry disposition.


Humorous lessons taken from my childhood and reinforced by an axiom from the Marine Corps now help me to keep in mind the value of flexibility. By remembering to always (or at least frequently) remain flexible, I can upset myself far less than I would without these reminders.


If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.


As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.


At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!



Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW




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Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. (n.d.). Liquid nitrogen. Mount Sinai. Retrieved from

Saturday Night Live. (2013, August 29). Gumby: Gumby and Pokey reunite – SNL [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved from

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