All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely Players;
They have their Exits and their Entrances,
And one man in his time playes many parts…
-- Shakespeare, As You Like It
We tend to take life seriously… all the problems, challenges, crises… all of these seem to be like life and death situations, and in some cases they are. Yet as Shakespeare told us years ago, all the world is a stage, and we are all players or actors upon this earth.
I agree that we are all acting in a huge play, yet this play has no script. It is strictly an improvisation. We make up the lines as we go along. We also can make up our character as we go. Some days we play the villain, others the lover. Some days we play a character consumed by anger and fear, other days we are kind and considerate. Some days we play the stressed out family member, other days the casual relaxed neighbor.
Perhaps if we saw our daily actions and interactions simply as participation in improv theater, we might become less mired in actions, reactions, habits and attitudes. After all, in improvisational theater, while there is a main theme to the play (as there is in the play called "Life on Earth"), all actors are free to make up their role as they go along. Each response from another actor can send the whole play careening in a new direction, with all the other actors making up their responses as they go along.
That's How Life Is!
And isn’t that how our life is? We may be going along peacefully, and then someone "throws us a curve" (an insulting, angered or biting comment), and then we’re off in another direction. We no longer are playing "peaceful and content", but suddenly we are playing the role of the victim, the one who is wounded, hurt, angry and resentful, etc. Yet if we see this whole life as a improvisational play, then we can also see that we have a choice in our response. Even though someone insults us or barrages us with anger, we still can respond in whatever way we choose.
And that is the key. Choosing. When we’re in a play, we don’t usually get "caught up" in believing we are the character. We are always somewhat conscious of the actor being separate from the role being played. That leaves some distance between the cause and effect, so to speak. But in "real life" we have identified with our role, thus making it harder to keep our distance from the emotional reactions.
We get caught up in the melodrama of our lives, and forget that the "world’s a stage". We do the same thing when we go to movies – we get caught up in the scenario, holding our breath in the tense moments, crying in the sad scenes, feeling anger at the villain, and generally "believing" the story while we are watching it. However, in cases where the movie is not produced as well, we tend to remain disassociated with the movie… never losing sight that it’s a movie, and we see the cracks in the script, never really getting caught up in it.
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Well, if anything, our life definitely has cracks in the script, yet we are fully caught up in believing it. So what role are we playing? Is our role fixed? Can we switch character traits along the way?
Baby, You've Got the Power!
One thing that we’ve been told through the ages is that we have free will. We have the power to make our own choices. And, if the world’s a stage, then we have free will in choosing our roles and how to play them. No one is forcing us to play the bully, the "poor-me" victim, the downtrodden, the seductress, the moody one, etc. These are roles we’ve adopted. True, our environment and our upbringing may have encouraged us to take certain roles, but we always have the choice of saying no.
We always have a choice of saying to the director of the play (that’s us), hey, I’ve had it with this role. I don’t want to play this part anymore. I’m going to play the part of the hero, not the victim. I’m going to play the part of the person who’s in charge of their life. I don’t like the role I’ve been playing. I’m rewriting the script and changing roles.
Changing roles is something we do constantly, though often without really noticing. With our children we are the parent: sometimes strict, mostly responsible, and to be relied upon. With co-workers, we may be a procrastinator, a slouch, or the over-eager beaver. With friends, we may be the clown. With strangers, we may be the extrovert, or the introvert.
Any time we meet someone new, we choose what role we play. Oftentimes that choice is based on the other person’s behavior – if they act like a bully, we may stand up and speak out, or we may decide to step back. With someone who is shy and afraid, we may become somewhat of a bigger sister or brother, or we may become shy as well.
Time for a Change?
Each situation, each encounter, each moment presents us with a choice. Which role will be played? Teacher, student, rebel, counselor, bully, introvert, rage-aholic, alcoholic, greedy, generous, peaceful, angry, etc. Changing roles can be easier than changing our clothing, since all it takes is a change of perception, of attitude. It does however, need a willingness to be aware of the roles we play as we go along.
Remember the whole world’s a stage… which role will you play? You can’t really stand in the sidelines and watch, because that too is a role. You’re playing the uninvolved. Yet, if we want to make a difference in our immediate world, and in the planet on which we live, we have a responsibility to choose our roles carefully and with consciousness.
Let’s make this play, entitled "Life on Earth", a joyous, light-hearted romance with Life and all its members. There may be a lot of muck to wade through and deal with at first as the other characters adjust to the new script, but, let’s improvise – we can do it. One word, one thought, one action at a time.
So, what’s your part?
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About The Author
Marie T. Russell is the founder of InnerSelf Magazine (founded 1985). She also produced and hosted a weekly South Florida radio broadcast, Inner Power, from 1992-1995 which focused on themes such as self-esteem, personal growth, and well-being. Her articles focus on transformation and reconnecting with our own inner source of joy and creativity.
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