Making You Look Good

I had an extended conversation with a boy who was having the toughest time learning that when you demand to be first at everything, argue about every setback, and mind everyone else’s business, things don’t go well.

Per his experience, he had “no friends”, kids won’t mind their own business , and they don’t play fairly with him. In my experience, he brought most of it on himself. My class was very good about giving him a fresh chance daily, he usually squandered it. He was right, they sometimes got into his business. They would tell on him when he’s blatantly breaking school rules, after they tried to talk him out of it first. Finally, on the playground, every game involved it not going his way at some point, after he had grandstanded when it had gone well for him earlier. Nearly every game involved him storming off in anger.

As we talked, I talked to him about improv theater. You’ve got two (or more) actors on the stage and no script. They have to work together to make a scene. If both of the actors set out to make themselves look good — to always put themselves first — you’re going to get a terrible scene. Whether it’s improv comedy or drama, the scene is going to feel disjointed and bad. Much like my student, it would just be a lot of ‘look at me!’ and grandstanding. When it goes right, the actors on an improv stage have a smarter goal: Make your scene partner look good. If I’m concentrating on making sure that everything that my partner says and does looks amazing — and they do the same for me — the work we do is going to look better.

It requires a lot of faith in your “scene partner”. You need to trust that they’re looking out for you, too. That’s a pretty vulnerable position to be in, but when we set out to make each other look great, we all look great. When you seek the attention just for yourself, well, that’s a recipe for people thinking you’re a jerk.

Of course, like anything that requires faith in others and vulnerability, it can go wrong. Someone can take advantage of you. But I really believe that if you can’t open yourself up that way, you’re never going to have any real friends anyway.

In the meantime, I don’t know if my friend will

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