It is a long known rule of improvisational acting that you do not negate your scene partner or else the scene will come to an abrupt halt.
actor 1: "Doctor, my leg's been cut off in a horrible accident."
actor 2: "No it hasn't, I can see it right there."
Screeeeeech, brakes are hit and its hard to recover. It is your duty to keep the scene going by accepting what is given and then adding to it. You are not judging what is given to you, you are moving forward.
This notion occurred to me as I was pondering how to improve my conversational skills.
You see, I tend to react in conversations, which often leads to roadblocks. Whatever the last person has said, I will say how I feel about what they've said, and expand. Which, in theory seems fine... however, lately, I've seen how what I thought was dialog, can be perceived as attack. Furthermore, its seen as an attack on the person, and not on the statement they made.
Part of me feels that there is an added climate of defensiveness right now. The heated political election and fences erected seem to be saying at all times, 'are you on our side or theirs?' When in many cases the 'sides,' if they even exist, are not even close to clear. How you feel about taxation means diddly squat in how you feel about abortion or marriage rights, etc. Or, we're all on the same side (kids dying in school is a tragedy) but we'll still do our damndest to divide ourselves over it.
So, maybe it is everyone else... but it could also be me. Perhaps I've become more angry in my advanced age and tend to attack without realizing it... So, it was time to look in the mirror, and see if I can adopt new conversational techniques, and do my part to stem this culture of defensiveness.
In two women's habits I found great similarity to the improvisational rule, "Yes, and."
One woman, -let's call her Happygal- is extremely bubbly and open. She seems to lay everything out there for people to see, but she speaks only in positives even if the negative wouldn't be that big of a deal.
Friend 1: "I've been training for the Tarheel 10 miler."
Friend 2: "That's great! I just started running, but am only up to three miles."
Happygal is with these two girls listening as they chat about running and wants to be a part of the conversation.
She joins by saying: "I really love Zumba! I love having someone tell me what to do and I assume I look like Beyonce when I'm shaking it." She says it all with a smile. From this, the two friends can assume that Happygal doesn't run but never does she need to say anything negative about it, she simply asserts the positive in something else. She may hate running, she may have bad knees, it may bore her, etc. etc. but she realizes that they don't need to know every detail, especially if the details happen to be negative. (YES, you love running. AND, I love zumba!)
Another woman, Securegal, plays things a little closer to the chest and has very strong and passionate views. But, similar to Happygal, she states firmly what she believes only if and when the time seems appropriate. She makes little to no commentary on what the other person has said.
Friend 1: "The GOP is trying to cut funding to unemployment benefits again, just showing as always how racist republicans are and how much they hate poor people."
Friend 2: "Hey Securegal, I know you voted for GOP guy, do you really think it's ok to cut unemployment and let people starve? is that what America is about now?"
Securegal: "I did vote for GOP guy, I think his plan to create jobs made sense to me, I hope people get off unemployment by getting employed! And I certainly don't want anyone starving which is why my family and our church provide bags of groceries every week for anyone that needs them." (YES, I accept your statement is your belief and agree people shouldn't starve in America, AND here is how I handle that belief in my home.) She doesn't waste time getting offended at the notion that republicans are racist or take time to attack anyone else's policies.
I used to find both these girls and methodologies vaguely irritating because they can seem almost dismissive in tone. Instead of a conversation, to me, it just felt like people waiting to talk when there was no direct call and response to statements and questions. However, the people they are talking with don't get upset because, I realized, what they say is being accepted.
I lacked the basic social skills to realize at first that most people don't want to know if their logic doesn't make sense or if the source they are quoting isn't a reputable one or if they mispronounced the country they are talking about. Pointing those things out are saying, 'No' and they bring the conversation, like an improv scene, to a screeching halt.
And it was in telling my daughter, "we don't need your opinions on everything," that the mirror became crystalized. Guess what, Mandy, they don't need your opinions on everything. (I'm writing this all in a blog so you can see my opinion that you don't need my opinion... the irony doesn't escape me.)
So, in trying to be honest, but without forcing people around me to have their defenses on at all costs, I am going to attempt to feed off of the improv lesson that both Happygal and Securegal employ whether intentionally or not... "Yes, And."
YES. your statement is your truth. Yes, you have thought it out, you believe it, there it is. I'm not attempting to change it, judge it, or rate it on any grand scale of debate code. It is your yes and I accept that. AND (if I am in the scene) here's what I believe, I will add value if I can, but I will try not to devalue or 'no' your contribution.
Or, maybe I'll take my Mom's advice and just stop having conversations with idiots.
here's a Little less conversation...and a lot more Elvis!!