Words of Wisdom
cards and 15 activities to spark conversations and make sense of learning.
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Pretendlandia - Balancing fantasy and fiction
|In Praise of Pretense - Inspiration from an 11-year-old||
Half Belief - When to pretend
|Cooperative Stories - Half belief in your colleague's ideas|
and the value of pretending
Usually we think of pretending as an escape from reality; a denial of what's serious about life. But sometimes pretending enables us to reach for the stars while keeping our feet on solid ground. One type of pretending, half belief, can help us balance reality and fantasy as evidenced in the 99-Word Story that opens this issue of the Firefly News Flash.
During my only visit to Las Vegas to attend a conference, I was struck by the dissonance between the glitzy gaming houses and the dramatic mountains on view from my hotel room. As one colleague commented, "Everything here is fake. Each building imitates a fantasy, the gaming people are actors, it's all pretend. You have to struggle to find something real."
I wondered what it would be like raising a family here. Fantasy is a fun, exciting getaway but what's it like to surround yourself with it every day while ignoring heart-stopping desert beauty a couple miles away?
Praise of Pretense
Having just turned 11, my niece is so funny. I am charmed by the combination of worldly innocence she embodies. She is totally aware of the world around her with well-formed opinions and convictions about politics, the environment, and whether the principal of her school is full of baloney. At the same time she has an unwavering belief in the completely fantastical.
For example, as an only child she has her stuffed dog, Todd, who is her oldest and most constant friend. Todd does not mind being bound up in a backpack all day while my niece is in school. But bring him out and he'll have intelligent things to say that she interprets. His opinions are nuanced and very different from hers.
For Halloween, my niece dressed as Hermione Granger, heroine of the Harry Potter series of books and movies. When she pointed her magic wand and hit me with the stupefying curse, I was immediately rendered catatonic - until she kindly performed the counter curse.
When it was my turn to use the wand, I pulled a memory out of my head and transferred it to hers. Then asked her to tell me what the memory was. Though I had a memory in mind, I was planning to agree with whatever memory she identified. Astonishingly, she came up with the very incident I'd thought of: the time she fell from a swing and skinned her nose.
Next she pulled a memory from her own head and gave it to me. "Actually," she said, "It's sort of a memory about the future." I made some vague statements about "a situation with strong feelings, a big event about to happen, and an important change to come." Eventually I teased out that she was hoping to receive a letter from Hogwarts, Harry Potter's magical school for young wizards!
As she explained with hushed enthusiasm, "This is my eleventh birthday and that is when people get their acceptance letter!"
It's incredible! On some level she believes she could really go off to Hogwarts! Our game reflected many of the elements of play - spontaneity, stretching rules, humor, fun - that were highlighted in last month's issue of the Firefly News Flash.
How wonderful to be on that cusp where you are grounded in reality yet your favorite fantasy could also come true.
Half Belief: When to pretend
a star is born
you wish upon a star
From "When You Wish Upon a Star" by Leigh Harline, Ned Washington, Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group, Bourne Co.
It's OK for children to pretend but adults should face reality.
This statement is absolutely true and I don't believe it for a minute! We all need to pretend. Pretense is a well from which we draw a draught of hope when we thirst for relief from the now.
Art, movies, books, music, dance all transport us to a different reality where we can pretend for a few moments that things can be different, the fantastic can become fact, the dream a reality, the heart's desire will come to you. Pretending can give us energy to change the world.
One form of pretending is half belief, the recognition that both what's real and what's fantasized can be true at the same time. Half belief is not the wishful thinking that distracts and leads to procrastination. It's not living in the made-up world of Las Vegas as described in the 99-Word Story. It's not faith in the empty hope that someone else will fix our lives.
Instead, half belief is the ability to have faith and work toward the impossible because one is grounded in the here and now. Half belief is at work when we embrace life's challenges but act as if those challenges are only as real as the future we'd like to see.
Parents have the half belief that their two-year-old will grow out of a difficult stage or that a reasonable adult is about to emerge from the cocoon of adolescence.
Half belief is evident in those who long for political change or social reform.
Teachers half believe that their lessons will have a greater impact than whether their students earn a good grade.
Half belief inspires us to take on a new, risky project. No one knows the future but we must act as if we are certain of it or we won't be able to act at all.
All of us half believe that our relationships are trustworthy and the work we do will have a lasting impact.
With half belief we can suspend judgement to test various ideas and perspectives. We can weigh solutions and react spontaneously when circumstances change quickly. We can extend wholehearted credibility to another person's ideas while being open to new information from another direction.
This is not to say that anything goes; that there is no ground of solid truth. Instead, we leave the field open so there is space for the best version of reality, the best version of the truth, to become known.
Wishing is passive but half belief is action that is based on both our best intentions and our dream of what might be - if only…
In addition to our personal lives, half belief can also be important in our work and social relationships.
One way to help members of your team to grasp the notion of half belief is with this activity of cooperative storytelling which has its roots in improvisational theater.
Goal: to practice acceptance of multiple viewpoints
Time: 15 - 20 minutes
Participants: Any number working in pairs or triads
Procedure: Match people into pairs or triads and have them sit so they can see and hear each other. Explain that to do this activity successfully, people will have to pay attention and react positively to what their partner says without judgement.
The object is to tell a story collaboratively by having each person of the pair or triad taking turns saying just one word at a time. The stories people tell can be fantastical but encourage people to make them coherent and to keep inventing the stories until you tell them to stop.
Indicate that the person with the snazziest shoes can begin by saying the first word. Then partners should respond with the next word to build the story. Announce the start of storytelling.
After about three minutes, stop the action and have a brief discussion choosing from among the following questions.
- How would you rate your story?
- What made this activity easy; what made it challenging?
- What did you do or how did you react when your partner said a word that completely surprised you?
- To what extent did you try to influence the direction of the story or the next word your partner might add?
- Some people may think they were stuck saying the little connecting words like and, a, the, of, etc. How could we change the activity to address this concern?
- If you were to do this again, what would you do differently?
Now repeat the activity with any modifications the group suggested. This time, however, challenge people to keep their story as realistic as possible. Invite a different person to begin the story and start the clock for another three minutes.
Gather everyone's attention and wrap up with a few more discussion questions.
- Was this round more or less challenging; more or less fun?
- What effect did a focus on keeping it real have on your story?
- What are some times in the world of work when someone says something outrageous or off the wall that you didn't expect? What insight about those situations does this activity give you?
- To tell a story cooperatively, you have to keep your vision or direction for the story in mind while also listening and trying to figure out the vision of your partner. How is this like working with others on your team or in your department?
- What other analogies can you make between this activity and what you experience at work?
Conclude the activity by reinforcing the idea that the best teamwork happens when we share our own truth while remaining open the opposing reality of our colleagues. And that's how we achieve collaboration.
My half belief is that this activity will inspire big changes in your organization! When it does, please the story of what happened.
If you like what you have read in this issue, I would like to bring the same innovation, creativity, and playfulness to your next meeting or learning event.
Whether you need a keynote speaker, or help with strategic planning, performance improvement, or training facilitators and trainers in your organization, I look forward to your call (802.380.4360) or .
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