The un(comfort) zone

The (un)comfort zone

I’ve been thinking about the ideas of playing, randomness, dialogue, tolerance, and connection with other people, and how conversations can change the way we think and act in our lives in different ways, according to our beliefs. How even small actions reveal the way we think, and our values. But also how dialogue with others can open the way we think and see reality, so we can realize how we are sometimes making wrong decisions without being aware of it.  Also how sometimes we walk away of the possibility of difficult topics and possible disagreements.

For some time I have realized how western culture, there is a strong tendency to be individualistic.  Just by looking at the heroes, we see how they pretend to solve the problems by themselves. In the process, underestimating the potential of the collective potential to create change. Or maybe they just serve as a way to make us realize how our individualistic approach to life is creating a need for these superheroes that can solve our problems with their miraculous superpowers.  This individualist and selfish tendency are leading, some of us, to isolate and become busy people that don’t leave enough time and space for conversation and “non-productive” moments. Social moments that we share with strangers and friends that we used to have before. We have all the social media, parties, collective ports and others spaces to interact with others. But in most of these circumstances, we often don’t find an adequate space to talk about important and/or interesting things.  Another point is that some of us, have a tendency to talk to people that we feel have a connection or common ground with, somehow. Wanting to feel comfortable when we recognize ourselves in them. When we agree, we feel a happy and comforting feeling. And some of us tend to scape disagreements. Disagreements are awkward moments but are necessary to produce change. We can try, by creating a safe and respectful space, in which the uneasiness of disagreement is removed, by shifting the attention in a new direction. We will face the challenge of becoming a different person for the duration of a playful activity.

I was thinking about creating a space to connect strangers or people that already know each other. A playful space that places them in a position where they have to talk outside of their own point of view. So participants can distance from their own self’s and open to other experiences and ways of thinking. A space to look at problems, challenges, and situations from the real world, from a critical, but playful way. To set rules that shake the ground and the status quo of their mindsets.

An issue I want to also address is the problem of not being able to touch sensitive subjects in our normal conversations. We have to be careful of what others can think about us, and also on not hurting the others with our comments. I think that that can be changed with a game with a set of rules, that include randomness, roll-play and disruptive strategies that lead to “breaking the ice”. And that way the conversation can go into different directions that create a shift from our common way of thinking. The idea is that we can simulate situations, develop stories and step in other people’s shoes using this playful fictional space.

When I talked to Seho Cabrian about this subject, he introduced me to the Theater of the Oppressed. The Theater of the Oppressed has the idea of using a theatrical method to promote political change. Augusto Boal talks about art as a political vehicle for making change. The method uses different tools to make people question their way of thinking, so they realize how they can improve as social beings. By creating a fictional space, with tension and dramatic conflict, the goal is to produce a cathartic effect on the participants. The catharsis is produced when they become aware of how they can make positive change in the real world, by realizing specific aspects that they hadn’t been considering before the play. Also making people question themselves about how responsible are they being as part of society. It is very effective as a tool  for change, because the goal is to make us feel more as members of a society, than unique and selfish individuals. The method, as I understand it, also tries to make the participants think about how our actions, are a reflection of our society, which has vices and virtues, as all of us are. The idea is not to make us feel bad as individuals, but to encourage us to feel and become a more important part of the community, a more active part of it. That our roll and small actions do matter, even if we think they are small and irrelevant in scale. To make us think about our future selves and our own potential.

“Theater is change and not simple presentation of what exists: it is becoming and not being” – Augusto Boal

That was the idea of the experiment I did for my seven-day practice. I found an interesting connection with the reflection Boal does in his Theater of the Oppressed book. When he analyzes Aristotel’s coercive idea of tragedy, a tool for enforcing the law and moral values of the state, he talks about the concept of virtue. He says that virtue is achieved by the repetition of actions, by the idea of creating positive habits. That idea led me to the example of the simple gesture of picking up 5 to 10 plastic bottles from the street floor, and placing them in a proper recycling bin. It would reveal a vice/virtue of society. A relationship between a collective problem/solution. This simple and almost symbolic action was at the same time a performance, a political statement, and a theatrical gesture, on a very small scale.

“All theater is necessarily political because all the activities of man are political and theater is one of them.” – Augusto Boal

What to do?

I’m considering different ideas to design the (un)comfort zone around. I found a very effective game to create stories in a collaborative way. It’s called Story Cubes. Two or more people collaborate to make a story based on the results of rolling dice. The nine dice have icons that evoke objects that the players have to appropriate to create a step in the story. This works, by dividing the dice and taking turns, after choosing a random topic or title for the story. What I’m considering is using this strategy to join it with the idea of the Aristothelic tragedy, and the theater of the oppressed method. Also modifying the rules to create more conflict and tension than the normal in the case of the Story cube games. From my tests with the story cubes, the stories people create, are very spontaneous, sometimes funny and absurd, but not a single time have people developed a serious or conflictive story. I’m considering in introducing a third element or party that works as the hand of fate, to introduce conflict, disruption and elements that question the actions and decisions of players. Also a final part meant to generate a reflection of “what to take away from the story”. Much in the spirit of the game of life, which make’s us face life challenges by the dictate of randomness in the form of a roulette.

Another element that can add to the idea of how external events coming into our life’s, is the idea of an oracle and a figure of a random event messenger, evoking the messenger of the gods, “Mercury”. This will cause players to face this challenges and react in creative ways to include them in their story. They will be forced to make moral decisions and actions, creating a debate between the players.

I found a group that is implementing the theater of the oppressed method in the context of New York. I’m attending a show and will meet after the show with them, to listen to their experience, and also tell them about the (un)comfort zone, to get some valuable feedback. The Theater of the oppressed in New York.

I also found some interesting readings about conversation activities in school contexts.

About the act of conversation:

“We may become a part of our local community by sharing stories but we discover who we are through the narratives of our family. Some stories take on the status of the written word. They have been told so often that they cannot be altered. “

“The art of storytelling for teachers an pupils. Using stories to develop literacy in primary classrooms”. Page 5. Elizabeth Grugeon and Paul Gardner. David Fulton Publishers London. Published in Great Britain in the year 2000. ISBN 1-85346-617-4

In this quote, it’s very interesting how we built our own narratives and values, based on the stories we hear in the context we group up and inhabit. Those stories then get incorporated into our own by a process of accommodation. I find it interesting how families make creative corrections to their family stories, justifying bad decisions and actions done by their members. There is in most cases a complicity to hide them. Also a tendency to glorify their personalities and the old times. It’s also interesting how the conversations about that past reveal the way the members of families think in the present time. We also tend to identify with our ancestors and to replicate their good deeds, defend their values, sometimes try to continue with their legacy and become inspired by their good actions.

I also found to be very interesting about storytelling. About the potential, it offers for change.

“Summarizing the work of several research projects that studied children’s responses to stories, Protherough Identified ‘six things’ that stories did to them; 1) They caused physical changes (feelings of dizziness, or nausea); 2) they prompted the recall of past experiences; 3) they caused readers to speculate on ‘what might be’; 4) they instigated changes in attitude; 5) they encouraged empathy with characters; 6) they brought about emotional change. Story reading and storytelling can be a truly seductive experience and we might add to Photerough’s list the potential of the story as a medium for teaching and learning. Given the power of the event then, the act of storytelling can be an extremely effective strategy for establishing and building relationships between children of different ages.”

Taken from: The art of storytelling for teachers and pupils. Using stories to develop literacy in primary classrooms.

Elizabeth Grugeon and Paul Gardner. David Fulton Publishers London. Published in Great Britain in the year 2000. ISBN 1-85346-617-4 Page 99.

It’s interesting to note how stories can even affect our bodies, causing strong sensations. Also how they make us think about.

When I think about how children develop their social skills, I think about my cute nephews and realize how important the socialization process is for their development. When they started school they soon became much more complex human beings. The exposure to stories and conversations made a great impact. They started to talk in a much better way, and they would have many more things to say than before. The stimulus that conversations produce is very powerful, and not only for children. We confront our experience to other, and we take and give, in the process of understanding the other and trying to make sense to the other. Our exposure to the unknown expands our minds. When we meet new people we feel like the world got bigger and more interesting, as it happens when we travel.

The next question of how good our conversations are in our normal routines. How much we learn from them. How much they are changing the way we understand and deal with reality? I often find myself repeating very similar conversations with my friends and family members. It can get boring when we insist in talking about the same subjects, and also trying to agree as much as possible. So why don’t we try to introduce some chaos into our conversations to see what comes out of that?

Other resources yet to investigate:

The man of the dice. A novel written by Luke Reinhardt. (In this novel the character is bored about his own life, and decides to leave all his decisions to be taken by a die (trivial and important) . The book questions the idea of a fixed and static personality, and also the danger of the lack of a structured “permanent” personality. Also how our close social circle and society expects us not to change in a short period of time.

Some parts of the process…

uncomfort - 18 uncomfort - 17 uncomfort - 16 uncomfort - 15 uncomfort - 14 uncomfort - 13 uncomfort - 12 uncomfort - 11 uncomfort - 10 uncomfort - 9 uncomfort - 8 uncomfort - 7 uncomfort - 6 uncomfort - 5 uncomfort - 4 uncomfort - 3 uncomfort - 2 uncomfort - 1

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