Sunday, November 02, 2008

To act and not To be

Here's something curious about human nature. If you ask an adult to write a poem or perhaps, paint a picture, you'll often find that you've put that person in a state of paralysis. "I can't" they will protest. But, if you instead ask a person to act like a poet or act like a painter, then suddenly that same person finds the freedom to create something outrageous and will spout ridiculous verse or splatter paint with abandon.

Contrary to common sense, it is easier to act than to be. This is the strange genius behind the What Would Jesus Do? bracelets. Somehow projecting yourself into someone else's shoes can bring a certain clarity to a scene. But you don't have to channel Jesus to help you with your decisions. When I'm not sure how to act as a mother, I just imagine what my own mother would do in my same situation, and immediately I've got an good option on the table.

And not only is it the easier verb to engage in, to act can become the path towards to be. For example, A. J. Jacobs found that if he performed acts of compassion, even if he wasn't feeling particularly compassionate, it led him to being so. Another example: so many blogs and photostreams remind me the introduction to Pagan Kennedy's book, Zine: "Between the ages of 25 and 31, fictioneer Kennedy (Stripping & Other Stories) published her own personal fanzine, Pagan's Head. Why? "[T]o procrastinate, to trick people into liking me, to get dates, to turn myself into a star, and to transform my boring life into an epic story. And the scary thing was, it worked."

Is this phenomenon due to some muscle to biochemical cascade like the one that makes you feel better if you make yourself smile? Or is this a sign that we are self-deluded creatures that love to rationalize our bad or non-behaviour into good behaviour? I honestly don't know. But I do know this. I want to be a writer and this means that I had to write this down.

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