Monday, February 14, 2011

This World of Yes

In one of my past incarnations, I spent a few years in the theatre department of a major Canadian university. My first year acting teacher was Keith Johnstone, the man who single-handedly created Theatresports--the type of improv theatre that gave rise to troupes like Kids in the Hall and theatre companies such as Calgary's Loose Moose Theatre, the Vancouver Theatre Sport League and Victoria Theatresports.

When we got up to do an improv, Keith always said two things.

"Never be funny." When you try too hard to insert humour, it's obvious and things get cheesy very quickly. According to Keith, there is plenty of humour in normal human interaction. If what happens at our house is any indication, Keith appears to be right.

The other thing Keith said, peering at us from over the top of his glasses, was "Always say yes."

Nothing shuts down an improv faster than saying "no" to a suggestion. It blocks the action, cuts off possibilities, stalls initiative, depletes energy, and creates a void instead of nurturing a response.

When you say "yes", it moves the action forward, makes it your responsibility to expand and participate in the next phase of the skit, and opens the improv to all sorts of possible outcomes (many of which are truly wonderful). It provides the spark of spontaneity.

"Yes" is what makes improv fun.


And I've been thinking: homelearning (and parenting) is a lot like being in an improv.

If our parental autopilot is set to a "no" response, we block/shut-down/stall our lives with our kids. "No" leads to frustration and disappointment and a sense of being without support, which negatively impacts our relationships with our children.

When our first response is "yes", we leave the door wide open to amazing possibilities.

Yes acknowledges a child's interests and initiatives and expressed needs. It lets a child know that she has been "seen".

Yes helps a child feel supported and nurtured right to the very core of his being. It's an affirmation that what he wants is important and valued--that he is important and valued. It's an expression of love.

Yes demonstrates a willingness to engage in the expressed hopes and dreams of a child. It sets in motion active negotiation and brainstorming and problem-solving and finding solutions that work for everyone and meet the needs/wants of a child.

Yes embraces spontaneity. It's about being flexible enough to drop expectations and move along a path that may be different than what we've previously envisioned.

Yes respects a child and knows that respect is contagious.

Some people get "yes" mixed up with permissiveness, which they get mixed up with children running wild without care for anyone else. "Yes" is not a carte blanche for a child to do whatever she likes whenever she likes wherever she likes to whomever she likes. A child lives in a family with other people who also need a whole lot of "yes" in their lives.


Unschooling parent Joyce Fetteroll writes: "Don’t say no. Always say yes. Or some form of yes. See your role as helping her get what she needs rather than negotiating for what’s most convenient for you."

As parents, we're often tired and looking for ways to minimize our tendency to overextend. What we may not realize is that when we say "yes", we are caught up in the energy of our children and are nurtured ourselves as we surrender to having a bigger, more vibrant world.

American poet e.e. cummings wrote:
love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skillfully curled)
all worlds
"This world of yes" opens us to all the possibilities in life... for us as well as for our children. What a fantastic place to spend (skillfully responsive) the rest of our lives.

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