Mar 252012
 

From the Improv Handbook…Keep this in mind the next time you are scared to approach a girl.

Children approach playing games, or doing exercises or being given the chance to try something new, very differently from adults. Children approach these situations with one mission, and that mission is to have lots of turns. They sometimes actually rate their success that way, saying something like “I had four turns and Charlie only had three–I win!”

Adults are very different. We want to sit back, assess–from our seats!–whether we’d be any good at the task in question. If we think we’d be successful at it, then and only then will we want a turn. If we think it is something we would not be good at, we would usually prefer to have no turn at all.

Children want lots of turns, but adults just want one perfect turn.

As adults, we’ve already decided what we’re good at and what we’re bad at, and we only want to have turns at things we’re already good at. We’ve met lots of people who’ve told us they can’t draw, but none of them was seven. All children think they’re brilliant artists and want their drawings displayed on the refrigerator. As adults, even if we secretly think we can draw, we hide our sketches away under the bed: “Don’t look at those–they’re just some silly things I was doodling.” The thing is, we all were those children. We believed we were great artists, we sang and danced when we were happy and acted out cops and robbers for hours. No one ever stopped and said, “I’m not a very good robber. I’ve run out of ideas. I think I need to research my character.” We always had endless ideas. Endless positivity. Endless faith in our own talent. What happened to us?

One answer is: our education. We hope at least that your education was free because, wherever you got it, it has screwed you over and transformed you from someone who volunteered fearlessly and believed in your own creative abilities into someone who is unwilling to get up at all in case “you make a fool of yourself,” and who claims they “can’t” sing, dance, draw, act, or speak in public and who has no imagination.

When you’re at school, if the teacher tells the class to write an essay and everyone else is writing, and you’re just sitting there all Zen and relaxed, thinking about your essay, what will happen? The teacher will shout at you. She’ll say “You! You’re not even trying!.” She would know if you were trying because trying looks like something. If your shoulders are hunched and you look worried and a little ill, then the teacher will probably come and do it for you. We learn to look anxious before we do things–like we’re not up to it.

We also tend to punish ourselves after we do things. Two adults will volunteer for something, and after they finish they’ll make a physical gesture of apology which says to the room: “No need to mention it–we know it wasn’t very good.” Maybe this is because we teach our children to punish themselves if they suspect they’ve failed. When you’re a kid, if you’re washing dishes and you break a plate and you say, “Well, never mind, everyone drops things from time to time,” and you clean it up in a relaxed and happy fashion, your mother will shout at you. That in our society is a “bad attitude.” A “good attitude” is to cry and feel worthless. Then your mother will say, “Never mind, darling, it was only an accident,” and clean it up for you. Therefore, as adults, we anticipate this; we’ve learned to. We look anxious before and after everything we do to avoid punishment from others.

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