Hey it’s me Mark!
I’m a man. A man! Growling noise! And as a man, I want to be strong. Strong for my wife. Strong for my family. Strong for myself. Strong for the whole world to see just how strong I am.
“But Mark,” some of you are saying, “It’s 2014! Men don’t need to be strong, they need to be sensitive.”
Well it takes a lot of strength to be sensitive. But the mere fact that there might be a perceived conflict between these two means we probably need to talk about what it means to be strong.
Think about bridges. (I sure know I do.) Which is stronger, that old stone bridge that has withstood the ages and never moved or some of these newer suspension bridges? Sure, the old stone bridge has been there forever, but the new bridge can span larger gaps more easily, with a lot less material because it is built to be flexible. (Ignore that that video ends with the bridge falling down because it undercuts my main point, but I really liked that video.)
There is more to being strong than simply being unyielding.
You see, engineers figured out that they could make things stronger by making them more flexible. Instead of being brittle and snapping when a lot of force is applied to them, they bend and sway. They probably got the idea from looking at trees. I was once out in a storm and I saw a gust of wind bend a young tree all the way over until it touched the ground. A few minutes later, the clouds passed and the tree was upright again, as if nothing had happened. What an amazing display of strength.
Being strong means being flexible.
So, we should be limp noodle people, unable to even stand. Such must be our flexibility.
No. No. No.
Strength does involve something of that old stone bridge. We need to stand our ground. We need to stand for something. We need to be unmoving on the bedrock of who we are. Christ told us not to build our houses on sand, but to set our foundations on rock.
Again, I find myself looking to improv to show this idea.
To be a strong improviser, we need to be a strong person.
But we cannot be unyielding. Strong improvisers don’t stomp through scenes, forcing their ideas into being and ignoring all other attempts to add to or alter the reality they are building. That isn’t what strength is: being terrified of anyone’s ideas except your own.
But we can’t be too flexible either. Sometimes, I’ll watch someone whose scene partner is denying their offers. They’ll try to save the scene by abandoning their offers and jump on the other person’s. This can work sometimes. But it’s definitely not for the best. And as an audience member, I find it really unsatisfying.
Instead, they should hold onto their initial offers, and then explore with their partner how those seeming denials are actually part of the reality of the scene.
That is a lot of improv-speak right there. Wow. Maybe an example would help.
Recently I saw this: One improviser walked onstage, pointed and said in an amazed voice, “Ohh, wow. all the trees are made of candy! And the river is molten chocolate!”
His partner came up behind him and said, “This is Toys R Us. Stop imagining things.”
Denied. Like, straight up denied. I immediately broke out in an uncomfortable sweat and I waited for one of them to have to admit that they were wrong. But neither of them did. They both held onto their ideas, and pushed back against each other and explored this world where both of these things were true and they eventually found a really interesting, complex, emotional scene. I loved it.
They were both really strong improvisers and that’s what made it work.
Improv is like when two mountain climbers do that move where they put their backs up against each other and link arms and then scoot themselves up a chimney. If one of them tries to be “polite” and let the other one push harder, they’ll both fall. The only way they can succeed is if they both push and at the same time remain sensitive to the other person pushing and allow themselves to be pushed.
So why don’t we do this in our lives? Because we’re scared.
We think that if we let someone else have an idea then we won’t get ours. So we learn to not listen to other people. We learn to shout. We learn to keep other people’s ideas out and seal our own in and we try to distance ourselves.
To be strong, we should do the opposite of those things.