What lies beneath..
As a very young woman, I trained and worked as an actress. I still act, but these days for pleasure and not for money. But play-acting has taught me so many life lessons and also lessons that I can generalize to my Coaching practice.
A play text is sparse. As an actor, when presented with a text, you see only the words the characters speak plus a few sparse stage directions. Characters say and do sometimes-inexplicable things and little context is given. It’s not like in a novel, where the writer, in great nuance and detail, fleshes everything out and you know what each character is thinking and what is motivating them. The actor’s challenge is to work out what it is that lies beneath, to think deeply about what precisely is happening and why, and in this way make meaning and thus imbue the text with life.
So acting taught me that I need to do this in life as well. People’s intentions and their reasons for their behavior are not always clear. So when faced with unexpected behavior from someone, before leaping into judgment, it’s really helpful to pause for a moment and to consider what may lie beneath, to try to really understand them – and if in doubt, before jumping to conclusions, to try and first check out what is happening.
Another thing that acting taught me, and for which I am eternally grateful is empathy. As an actor, you get to submerge yourself in experiences that are entirely outside of what you may ever encounter in your own life. As such, you learn to imagine what it must feel like to be living someone else’s life.
Among his vast writings, the ancient Greek philosopher Plato said two important things in this respect. Firstly he said,
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.
It’s very important to try always to be kind. Kindness means people need to know that you understand not only their words, but also how they are feeling about any issue of contention. But the other thing that Plato said is,
Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.
If you’re an actor this is really helpful in understanding the text you are working with. As a conscious human being, this is really helpful in understanding other people in the Drama of Life.
To negotiate scratchy moments in life, see if you can work out where the other person is coming from in terms of how much they know, how they feel about the situation, and also what they want. This is incredibly helpful in helping two minds to meet. Plato was a very wise man in my opinion.