Scared About the Next 4 Years? Take a Lesson From Improv Comedy
November 10, 2016
I know yesterday was a rough day for many. Popular words on my FB feed included grief, depression, shock, sadness, disbelief.
When times are tough, it might seem tempting to try to find the “eject” button and apply for Canadian citizenship. Or take advantage of California's new legalized marijuana resolution to check out on a 4-year high.
But as many commentators have already pointed out, what is really needed is for us to step even further into the ring and do our best to all move forward together.
Which is why I wrote this post. To do my part to offer a tool to navigate your mind and spirit during a paradigm-shifting event such as this election might have been for you.
I have seen many great articles and blogs that have attempted to soothe the depressed spirit with a “it’s not as bad as you might think” message. They logically point out that Donald Trump won’t be able to make large changes in a political system such as ours... or that no matter who won, half the country would have been upset and so why does it matter if it’s your side or theirs… or that this sort of thing has happened before in US politics, and it didn’t sink us then so why would it sink us now?
These are all great arguments that bring a lot of comfort. The perspective that I want to add is how to accept what has happened so that you can build strongly upon it and make your presence in this nation count moving forward.
And we'll do so with a lesson from Improv Comedy.
You may have noticed that Improv actors use a technique called “Yes, and,” which is the concept that you accept whatever move your partner just made, and build on it. For example, at my improv class last weekend, I was partnered with a classmate Jake, and we were told that we should improvise a scene with a car. I wanted the scene to be one of a girl getting driving lessons from her father. But before I could speak the words to frame the scene, my partner jumped in and had us be two bank robbers fleeing the scene of the crime. Not exactly what I had in mind. I was miffed.
But instead of resisting that plot line, I accepted it. I did my best imitation of a frantic car chase (which, to be clear, I am utterly terrible at. Cross that one off my list of potential careers.). And by embracing the scene I now found myself in, I was able to add the fact that I was a junior bank robber, and I was getting bank robbing lessons from the “big boss.” I ended up introducing the element of paternalistic instruction that I wanted; it was just with a gun in my hand and a sack of loot at my feet. The scene was fun and funny, and a big hit.
Contrast the “Yes, and” with the “No, but” approach. Had I responded to my partner that “we’re not bank robbers! You’re my dad and we are taking a driving test,” then the scene would have come to a screeching, awkward halt. My partner would have been offended, I would have been indignant, and I promise you that no one would have laughed.
The key to the “Yes, and” is acceptance. Acceptance means that you don’t waste your energy trying to resist something that you cannot change, and instead embrace it. Yes, embrace it. That doesn’t mean that you would have chosen it, but rather that you recognize that that is where things are now, and you commit to being fully receptive to what is. I
t’s only in that receptivity that you can really understand a situation enough to plot your “And." This is something that we learn in the Serenity Prayer:
“Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and Wisdom to know the difference.”
The “Yes” is the serenity of accepting what is. The “and” is the courage to make a change. And the wisdom comes in linking the two.
So, folks, what has to happen now is that we all must become skilled Improv artists. Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States. Yes, and what will you build upon it? What will you add to the scene? The future of our country will be shaped by all of our “Ands.” If there is one thing I have learned from Improv Comedy, it’s that some of the best scenes come from those Ands. What will be yours?