Sometimes, I dislike people.
I am not defending or proud of this fact; I am simply confessing. Some people have a quality or affect, a sense of humor, a way of being that can grate on my nerves, ruffles my feathers, even makes me feel uncomfortable or annoyed. Sometimes, my internal judgements left unchecked, I can nurture a fear of someone that leads to anger and resentments. Especially, if I disagree with something they have done or said. Especially if they are causing damage to someone else.
In improv when I struggle to like someone, I notice I bring that energy on stage with me. I do not support them very well. I become closed off to their ideas and contributions. I am not a great scene partner.
That kind of energy that I stir up — closed off, judgmental, impatient, rigid — I not bring that out on stage with my scene partner, my peer, my fellow human being; I also bring this energy to other stages.
I bring it home with me.
I bring it to my friendships, my family, my coworkers.
I bring it to those who share the road with me as I drive.
The posture of judgmentalism, dismissing the ideas of others, and nurturing dislike — this comes with me wherever I go. Instead of recognizing the dignity and inherent worth in all human beings, I begin to chisel people down to their ideas, giving approval based solely on how well they agree with me. (Seriously, I am not defending this.)
You do not have to search very far to find examples of divisive language in our midst. Whether on social media, the news, or in conversations with peers, coworkers, or family, the message of “us vs. them” is a popular framework. It implies: If you and I agreed, I would like you.
But improv, along with Mr. Rogers, flips that logic on its head.
The infamous Fred Rogers, television personality of wisdom and compassion, sang a song on his show entitled, “It’s You I Like.” The song lyrics tell of an appreciation for someone that has nothing to do with what they wear, how they are built, the things they own, but just them as a person, who they are right now, that makes them deserving of being liked.
As he taught from the mountain,* Jesus encouraged his audience to have a higher standard than “avoiding murder.” Letting anger go unchecked leads to judgmentalism and scorn of another. (It’s true. I’ve witnessed it within my own being.) Only when abiding in love (for ourselves, for one another) can we see and know the God who is love.**
One of the three main rules in improv is: Like each other. We are told to like our scene partners, that this sets the foundation for “yes, and.” It is difficult to say “yes” to someone I have decided I dislike; it is difficult to contribute and collaborate with someone from whom I would rather walk away. So we choose to like each other, support each other, and have each other’s backs. From that soil we create comedy and magic. Collaboration, and even likeability, begins to emerge. We actively practice the work of loving one another, honoring and discovering the image of God beheld in the person before us.
If I cultivate liking something, anything, about that person, I can build on that; I can build with them.
If I cultivate liking someone, I am more willing to collaborate, to go with their idea, to support them.
If I cultivate liking someone, laughter comes easier, as does the playfulness of improvising together.
When I practice this in my own life, I discover I can find something to appreciate and celebrate about almost anyone.
If I cannot, it says far more about me than it does about them.
* Matthew 5
** 1 John 4
Sometimes, I dislike people.