By Kelly Leonard – Executive Director, Insights and Applied Improvisation
I had published one of my post-Trump bizarre/dangerous comment pieces – adding another layer to the echo-chamber that is my mostly liberal social media feeds – when a friend of mine challenged my perspective. We were going back and forth in the comment section when I took pause. Wasn’t I just having a conversation with my colleagues at Second City Works about how improvisation is a practice that allows you to increase empathy, be others focused and – most importantly – allow you to experience the world from another person’s perspective? Why was I arguing with my friend when I should have been trying to better understand his point of view.
In a serendipitous moment of real time piling on, an Onion headline popped up on the same social media feed. It read:
“When Will The Idiots On The Other End Of The Political Spectrum Wake Up And Have Every One Of My Life Circumstances, Daily Interactions and Upbringing?”
Indeed. So I emailed my friend and asked if we could go a bit deeper into the conversation. Guess what? I learned something. Not just about him, but about some real issues that folks on the other end of the political stripe have that are both valid and cause for concern for all people.
So why do smart, caring people fail to consider other perspectives time after time after time? For a few reasons: it’s easier, we’re more comfortable in our existing patterns, it’s hard to escape our own cognitive biases and – here’s the kicker – we lack practice.
We don’t practice perspective taking.
We do a lot of perspective assuming.
One of my favorite actions when I see highly experienced improvisers work with each other, is when a performer is pushed to adopt a persona or a core human attribute that is the antithesis of who they are as a person. Not only is a deft move intellectually, it’s often really, really funny.
So when Rachel Dratch is forced to play big and mean – it’s hilarious – both because it is not who or what she is, but it also forces her (as the performer) and us (as the audience) to consider the “other.” Or when Keegan Michael Key – truly, one of the kindest people I’ve ever met – is set up to be the bad guy, we are delighted and the incongruence.
Oh that we could take this joy into our workplaces, into the political arena, into the world.
I think we can.
Think of it like yoga. If you and your co-workers began each day in a 30 minute improvisational practice workout, how would the rest of the day play out? If you took 30 minutes each day to stretch your empathy and perspective muscle, would you be better at your job? Of course you would.
I know the temperature feels hot right now. But one must also remember that our access to information on a 24/7 basis is unique to this time in the world. For an upcoming podcast, I spoke to Raj Sisodia – co-founder of the Conscious Capitalism Movement – and he reminded me that the planet today is at its most peaceful state in its entire history. Life expectancy and IQ have been rising for decades. This doesn’t mean terrible things aren’t happening all over the planet, they are. But just not more so.
Perhaps now is a good time to look at that perspective.