Hey, it’s me Mark!
One of the foundational ideas in improv is “yes and.” I feel bad for not talking about it earlier, but it is big and I couldn’t quite figure out how to present it. So I’m going to just try and take some small nibbles and see if we can’t all start to understand this idea a little better.
This weekend, my nieces visited us. Now, these are new nieces that I picked up by marrying a wonderful woman who happened to have some nieces. But they live far away in a distant land called Georgia, where things are more quaint and warm. We don’t get to see these nieces much, so I was determined to secure the “favorite uncle” title that I believe I deserve.
They came, bursting with that terrible combination of energy and lethargy that comes from being trapped in a car for two and a half hours, and waited patiently while the adults commenced their horrible talky visiting. The younger niece toddled adorably about, inspecting this new place and seeing if there was anything she could destroy. The older sat quietly and colored. But as time wound on, they both became restless. The adults were talking about such boring things! Work! Family life! Ugh.
So the girls began to play. Slowly, they crept up on their new uncle, hiding in his peripheral vision. He appeared to be paying attention to his mother-in-law, who was explaining something very dry and adultish.
“Careful,” the older girl said sagely to her sister. “It’s a mountain lion.”
“Ohhhh,” moaned the younger girl in terror. She had never gotten this close to a mountain lion before.
“We must get past it,” said the older girl. Her sister nodded solemnly. This wouldn’t be easy.
The mountain lion growled and the girls froze.
He scanned the horizon for signs of prey, but he didn’t appear to see the two little girls on the Ottoman.
“We’ll distract him with Applejack,” said the older girl. Applejack, her stuffed pony, trembled in fear and had second thoughts about his choice of friends.
The girls held hands. The older girl threw Applejack, and he landed heavily with a thump, right in front of the mountain lion! The lion roared and pounced on the pony. With great smackings of his lion lips, the beast rent the poor pony to pieces in a guttural feast.
And while he was distracted, the two brave, clever little girls snuck their way past, crawling on the couch cushion ridge directly behind the mountain lion.
This game continued for the next seven million hours.
Kids are natural “yes and-ers”. Adults aren’t.
The concept of “yes and” is simple: if someone offers you an idea, you support it (“yes”) and add to it (“and”).
The best example I can think of is when little kids play pretend. If someone makes you the dog, just be the dog. If someone makes you the dog and you say you aren’t, then you aren’t playing well with others. In fact, one of my improv teachers often said that improv is really just the art of learning to play well with others.
When you get a bunch of little kids together on a playground, they’ll make stuff up. It happens. Jungle gyms turn into pirate ships every day, and there isn’t anything we can do about it except climb aboard.
This is why my nieces like me. They made me a mountain lion and I said yes.
This is why it makes us happy to see a dad in a dress with makeup on, sipping tea with his daughters and making polite small talk with their stuffed animals. He’s saying yes and.
I find that a lot of adults say no a lot, especially to kids. To kids, the adult world is full of “nos”, “don’ts”, and “can’ts.” So if you flip it around, kid’s will love you.
During those awkward teenage years, it seems like people were always telling us to grow up. We were supposed to stop acting so childish all the time! Honestly! What’s wrong with you?
There is often a connection between being childish and being immature. Childish means being unable to accept responsibility. It means failing to accept blame.
Being childish essentially means saying no. Moving from childhood to adulthood involves gaining additional responsibilities. You need to make your own money, pay your own bills, get your own car, and live in your own space. You need to live your own life. When you choose not to do these things, you’re saying no.
The reason we find the image of an unemployed thirty-five-year-old man living in his parent’s house so galling is because he has denied his responsibilities. He has said no. He is childish.
Adults shouldn’t be childish.
But, we need to be childlike.
A bunch of disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
So Jesus called a child and put the child in their midst.
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 18:1–3)
We have to be childlike. We don’t really have a choice if we’re hoping to make it into heaven. And I’m assuming you’d like to go to heaven.
So what does it mean to be childlike? We need to say “yes and” more. That’s it. That’s the heart of being childlike.
Now, I understand that not everyone is me. I get that we’re all different. So I’m not saying that your “yes and” needs to look like mine. You don’t need to go around playing pretend all the time and being silly. “Yes and” can look like a lot of different things:
- An opportunity to take a trip comes up. Don’t exhaust yourself trying to figure out all the reasons you shouldn’t. Just go.
- You get a flat tire. Great, an opportunity to practice your tire-changing skills.
- Your wife wants to go dancing. Shake that money-maker.
- A friend asks you to help them move. You don’t want to. Do it anyway.
“Yes and” can be any of a million things. Any time you have a choice, there’s an opportunity to say “yes and.” Take advantage of these! The more you say “yes and,” the easier it gets.
So if you’d like to go to heaven, stop saying “no” all the time. Say “yes and.” Go to heaven.