Improv is the Opposite of Bullying

In the improvisation world,

  • it’s OK to be creative
  • it’s great to take risks
  • it’s OK to fail. And to fail again.
  • it’s good to lead, and then to follow
  • we understand about taking turns
  • we give each other “gifts”
  • we look for the good in other people
  • truth is found in agreement
  • there is a safe space

In the bully world,

  • you’ll be called out if you stand out
  • bullies pile on your failures
  • bullies take the lead and never relinquish it
  • bullies don’t take turns
  • bullies give away nothing
  • bullies look for weakness
  • the truth is what bullies say it is
  • there is no safety

Bullies are fighting a status battle*. They are usually wounded people with low self-image, and they were usually treated badly themselves. They try to make for it in the only ways they feel they can; they tear other people down to their level or below, or they deflect attention off of themselves.

Improvisors become adept at working with these approaches onstage, using the energy of a status battle to build tension and create interesting scenes. People playing bullies can generate a lot of energy and fun. In real life though, it’s so damaging.

Offstage, confronted with bullying, even many improvisors can forget why it’s happening and get caught up in the drama. When you think of it like a game, you can understand it, keep your balance and sometimes, short-circuit it.

More important, though, is the creation of safe space. All working groups – companies, schools, churches, meetings – need a safe space where all ideas and approaches are welcome. At some point, decisions have to be made, but decisions can happen after all ideas are on the table, and they can happen without derision or undue criticism.

For kids, it’s important to have a place where kids can be kids – free to follow their interests, and free to play their way.

Bullies can’t do their thing in safe spaces. Improvisational space – listening, accepting, supporting, taking risks and celebrating failure – is safe space. It doesn’t have to be on a stage.

What do YOU think?

* We talk about Status in Jill and Patrick’s Small Book of Improv for Business in some detail (it’s a quick read – there’s not that much detail). Every interaction between people can become a status battle – someone is trying to raise their own status and/or lower the status of the other person(s) involved.

2 thoughts on “Improv is the Opposite of Bullying

  1. Great message. Thank you! Bullying, especially among teens, has the public scared and wondering what can be done. How about more improv -based programs in schools around the topic?

  2. Thanks, Bridget! CSz-Portland has done some show/workshop hybrids based on reducing bullying, most recently for the Vancouver (WA) School District. We’d love to do more. We’ve also written scripted shows for schools on hunger (with Oregon Food Bank) and reducing/resusing/recycling (with Metro, our regional government). We’d love to find partner to do the same with an anti-bullying show.

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