Episode 11 - Change
Jen: Hey Peter.
Peter: Hey Jen.
Jen: I feel a rant coming on.
Peter: Please tell me more. I love your rants.
Jen: Have you got a soapbox handy?
Peter: Go, I'm prepped, it's ready. Let's jump in and do this.
Jen: This is The Long and The Short Of It.
So, I've been ranting recently - I know that's such a surprise to you, but this current rant goes something like this: for decades, my entire life actually, I have subscribed to the ludicrous and cliche notion that theatre, or the arts, can change the world.
Jen: Theatre-makers say this all the time: "Well, theatre can change the world."
Peter: Can it not?
Jen: No, it can't. People can. So it is not theatre that changes the world, it is theatre-makers, artists, writers, the people are what change the world, or their world - you know, sometimes we're talking capital W "World," sometimes we're talking lower case w "world" - and so after I had this sort of "aha!" and started ranting about it, the follow-up question is, because I'm usually saying this to a group of artists, I go, "Well then why aren't you?"
Jen: There is a sort of "passing the buck" when you make the assumption that a thing can actually effect change, rather than the people making the thing.
Peter: Okay, this is brilliant, and it reminded me of this notion that technology changes the world, or that startups change the world, or that the, you know, artificial intelligence is going to change the world. But who builds the technology? Who creates those startups? Who invents the technology that supports artificial intelligence? Humans. And I think, in the same way that people pass the buck to a thing, well yeah, an example of people passing the buck to a thing is people passing the buck to technology, and almost rejecting responsibility because technology will fix it. Someone will invent something that will cure cancer, or someone will invent something that will clean up the ozone layer, or something will come along. But yeah, you're so right. It's like, well, who creates that thing? A human.
Jen: Right, and so, in the case of the artistic rant I've been going on, it's like, well, what is it about theatre that you think could be world-altering? Like what is it about the arts, or about music or about technology that you think could actually make the change? And once you start asking that question, people start recognizing what they think is important. So I'll get answers like, "Well, when people see themself or themselves reflected in the stories we tell, they have a new understanding of where they fit in the world." It's like, oh, okay. So it wasn't the story that did that. It was the people portraying the story that did that. And so the change you are seeking to make in that case is to help people see themselves. It has nothing to do with theatre. Theatre is one possible platform for that change. Or someone else might say, "Well, I want people to know they're not alone." Like, yes, theatre, theatre is a platform to help people help other people know that they're not alone. But theatre as a concept can't do that. You can.
Peter: Yeah. You just reminded me of one of my favorite sayings, which is that people don't change because you tell them to. They change because they fall in love with a different version of the future. And that is what people can do through theatre, is they can observe something, they can hear a story, they can see something, relate to something, and something in that story is a version of the future that they are in love with. They want to be that person who can express themself in that way, or they want to feel seen, they want to feel heard, they want to feel like they have someone else and they're not alone anymore, to use your example. And that is connecting the dots for me in a lot of ways. Huh.
Jen: I think about, now that we're riffing on change, I think about change as a concept, and the ways in which people pass the buck of responsibility when it comes to change, it reminds me of something that drives me crazy, which is when someone will say, "That book changed my life," or "you changed my life," or "that movie changed my life," or whatever it is, and I go, "No. You changed your life. You read the book. You chose to pick it up off the shelf, you chose to engage with the content, and then you chose to apply the content to your own life. You changed your life." and when people come to class for example and say, "You changed my life tonight," it's like, no, you showed up. You chose the class, you showed up, you chose your material, you stood up in front of people, you did the work, you changed your life. And so again, it is the passing of the "responsibility buck." And in this case, it is a responsibility that, if you were to hold on to it, it could help you progress so much more quickly once you recognize that you are responsible for changing your own life.
Peter: Yeah, and I think it, it goes into this idea and this realization that I had, you know, not recently, but this idea that everything is a decision, and everything is a choice, and that until you accept that, you know, until you realize that that organization you're working for that you don't want to work for, or that promotion that you're waiting for someone to bestow upon you will not be bestowed upon you until you accept that it's a choice for you to be in that environment. You chose to put yourself in that company. You chose to put yourself in that situation, that relationship, that role, and you can choose to get out. You can choose to change your life if you wish, and until you can sort of realize that, I think you're right, I think it sort of haults or stunts your ability to grow and change and progress.
Jen: So one of the things I do at the beginning of a month in one of my classes - we talked about this empathy-building exercise that I do at the beginning of the month - well, one of the prompts before we actually dive into the exercise on the first class of the month, we do what I call a "personal creative inventory" where I ask everyone to assess where they are, where they want to go, what's keeping them from getting there, choosing to see obstacles as challenges. So rather than enabling roadblocks, see everything in your creative path as something you have the power to work past, work through, work with and enable forward-motion and progress so that you can change your own trajectory. Well, the issue with change is that in order to choose change, you have to be willing to see what needs to change, and that's the scary part, because many of us, like I said, want to pass the buck. It's easy to point the finger away from ourselves and go, "Well, that's holding me back, and that's holding me back, and that person is stealing this opportunity from me, and that person is keeping me from what I want." But when you turn the finger back to yourself, and you point at yourself and say, "I'm holding me back. I'm keeping myself from what I want. I can make this change and identify the thing, whatever it might be, large or small, that is keeping you stuck. You then have the power to change it in the next moment, like literally in the next moment, and the wonderful thing about time is that the next moment has already come and gone, so it could really be that fast. Now, this of course, in order to be realistic, must take into account your given circumstances, like who you are, where you're from, where you live, all of the things that are there given. So within those given circumstances, you do have the power to change the way you operate. And I was listening to Akimbo this morning - what a shocker; it's a Wednesday when we're recording this - and Seth Godin said, they were talking about people who have coaches, and he said, "There are two kinds of people in the world: people who have coaches, and people who don't." And I realized that you can really apply that to literally anything as you decide to make a choice or make a change. So there are two people, two kinds of people in this world: people who ask for what they want, and people who don't. Which one are you going to be? There are two kinds of people in this world: people who read books, and people who don't. Which one will you be? And when you look at it that way, it becomes a little bit easier to choose when there are only two categories of people.
Peter: So true. Yeah. If you give yourself two choices, it's like, "Oh, I can just be one or the other, and I'm not overwhelmed by thirty-five thousand different choices." And it's almost, for whatever reason, took me down a Stoic path - I've read some stoic philosophy a while back, and something that struck me in particular was what they call "the dichotomy of control," and it was basically that there are two things, there are two categories of things in life: things that you have control over, and things that you have no control over. And that there is absolutely no point, no benefit, no reason to think about, to worry about, to try and change things that you have no control over. Like, by focusing on those things, you set yourself up to be miserable, basically. That's the Stoic Philosophy sort of mantra. And so instead it's about focusing on those things you can control, which I think you've sort of spoken about, it's the decisions that we make, the way that we show up, whether we read that book, whether we, you know, go to class, all of those things are things that are within our control. And I think what we do is we, we often misalign those categories. We either focus too hard on things we can't control without realizing we can't control them, or we put things into that bucket that are actually within our control. And that's where I think we start to pass the buck and to move the buck to other people. So that's an interesting little side-riff on Stoicism.
Jen: Okay, well we're going down so many paths today. Your riff on Stoicism reminded me of my own personal philosophies about mastery.
Peter: Ooh, tell me more.
Jen: I believe that mastery is the ability to thrive in chaos, and the way you do that is by claiming mastery with lots of training and personal development and help over all of the things that you can control so that you are able to react to the things you can't control. So for example, if I was, I dunno, say Derek Jeter, and in my baseball days had stepped into the batting box, what I have control over is my stance, my prep, the way I hold the bat, how tight my gloves are, how tight my grip is, the angle of my hat on my head, how I'm looking and breathing and standing and swinging and timing and all of that. What I have no control over is what pitch is about to be thrown. So the mastery in that moment is about how I react to a ninety-six mile-an-hour fastball coming right at me with everything that I can control in order to hit it out of the park.
Peter: I love this analogy, and your life philosophy on mastery. It makes me realize, and maybe I'm repeating what you just said, but let me get this out there, that if you think about the dichotomy of control that I spoke about, things you can't control and things you can control, what I think people often forget is you can control your reaction to things. You can control how you choose to emotionally, physically react to an event, a situation, a story, a pitch. You have choice over those things, which often gets lost is within the, yeah, within things you can't control, you can choose how you react to those. That's, that's really interesting.
Jen: And that's really what all of whatever you are training for, whatever field, whatever art, whatever sport, whatever science, whatever - it's so that you can do just that.
Jen: So that you can make smart reactive choices, because what you're not having to do is choose whether or not to hold the bat when someone is throwing a ninety-six mile-an-hour fastball at your head, because you would have chosen that already. That is something that you can control.
Peter: Yeah, you've picked the bat up already.
Jen: And I think a mistake many people make, and it's certainly one that I encounter every single day in the work that I'm doing at my studio with artists, is attempting to force a space, a chaotic space - and I don't mean like a mess, I'm talking about just a space where you - there's nothing to predict. There's no way to predict. Trying to force that into some sort of static state so that you can more comfortably move through it, but the art of mastery is something you talk about a lot - being comfortable with the discomfort - that because you've trained yourself to say, "Oh, okay, these things, this is my technique for moving through this, and now I can go into whatever space it is and thrive. I don't require a static space in order to thrive."
Peter: Right. Yeah, and you hear athletes talk about this all the time, and I know I've mentioned a few times with my cold shower philosophy, but yeah, I've heard athletes talk about it in a number of contexts around training in uncomfortable conditions, whether it's you know, the desert, or in the freezing cold, or doing ice therapy, or doing a workout that they know would never exist in a competition that they're going to enter, all in the interest of preparing themself, mastering those, those reactions for the day that when they compete or for the moment they step up to the plate, in the Derek Jeter example.
Jen: So working backwards, essentially what we've learned here is that in order to be a master of whatever craft, you must look at what is in your control and what is not in your control, and that means having the bravery and the audacity to point your finger at yourself and ask, "What is my contribution to every moment of my own life?" and to take responsibility for the change that you can make within yourself, and also for the change you seek to make in your lowercase w world, or the capital W, "The World," so that at the end of the day, you don't expect things to do things that people actually have to do.
Peter: And that is The Long and The Short Of It.