Learnings from a Wise Fool…

Yesterday, I was talking with someone who asked me about my passion for Wise Fool New Mexico. In explaining my thinking, I felt like I arrived at some clarity into three questions I am exploring:

  • What does ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ mean in practice?
  • How do I change myself?
  • How is individual internal change relevant to collective political, economic and social change that leads to more social justice in the world?

Here’s what I’m thinking.

Wise Fool NM is a performing arts group working with circus, theater and puppetry. Wise Fool NM performs shows for entertainment, runs workshops for skills and personal development and uses the arts as a vehicle for explicitly supporting social justice movements.

Wise Fool NM’s work hits on all three of the above questions.

As an organization, Wise Fool NM wants to embody the social justice (be the change) it aims to promote in the world. But an organization is a thing. The organization doesn’t want to be social justice organization – the people who run it do. As I see it, Wise Fool Board members, staff and teachers constantly grapple with how to create an organization that gives rise to and nurtures relationships rooted in self-determination, dignity and well-being (for me, these three principles are the heart of social justice). And I’m not wearing rose-tinted glasses. Wise Fool – like all of us – struggles with finding the best steps and rhythms for this dance. On any given day, social justice flows through some interactions more than through others.

That’s life and how we all live it.

Life is a collective creative process. An organization is a collective creative process.

Collective creativity has many levels to it. I’m particularly interested in the relationships we have with our selves, each other and the planet. How do we change these relationships?

How do people change? How do I change?

At one level, Wise Fool NM workshops are spaces where people get to know their selves better. They have the opportunity to make shifts in their relationship with self. These shifts could involve, for example, moving into greater confidence to take risks and being less judgmental of one’s self.

At one level, Wise Fool NM workshops are spaces where we get to know our selves better by – if we choose – stepping into greater awareness of how we tend to interact with others. Creating a performance piece with other people offers up the chance to look repeatedly in the mirror and ask “What does this kind of thinking and behavior result in not just for me, but for people around me?”

Having greater awareness of what kind of relationships we are cultivating is an essential step to creating shifts in how we are living together. Relationships are the basis of living together, no?

Awareness alone is not enough. Change in behavior is what matters. In co-creating a performance piece, we get the chance to experience first hand how collective creativity is the dance of different players. What kind of players we are being determines the outcomes of our collaboration. When I experience first-hand how relationships with self and other can shift to become more just and joyful, I become more committed to both having greater awareness and taking conscious action in response to what I’m learning on a daily basis. Experience tells me it feels good for me and other people, so I act on it.

I like to think I’m not unique this way.

How does all of the above tie into systemic and structural change? What does this have to do with ending oppression? What does this have to do with creating social justice?

I haven’t been to a Wise Fool professional or street performance yet (list of things to do!). I speculate that at one level they are entertaining. At one level they could be educational – raising awareness, for example, about a social issue such as climate change.

I believe we create in our own image. Our current systems and structures are our own creations. Even if we haven’t had a direct hand in their creation, we are still participating in them. That is, we are either resisting them or sustaining them – however unconsciously. Resistance, however, is not the end game. Resistance ideally leads to creating anew and differently. In this way, we replace oppressive systems and structures with restorative and liberating systems and structures.

We CREATE different and refreshed ways of living together.

The individual internal work potentially done through workshops such as those offered up by Wise Fool NM equips people to be better prepared for creating in ways that are restorative and liberating. Armed in this way, when we step out of resistance and move into re-creation, we will start to see and experience different outcomes.

The entertainment (which can also be part of a protest or demonstration) created by groups like Wise Fool NM potentially offers up shifts in insight and perspective on important social issues of the day.

The entertainment also offers up experiences of beauty, wonder and humor. And I do not underestimate the value of beauty, wonder humor in this journey to create better ways of being human.

This work isn’t a magic silver bullet that changes everything. Yet, shifts in hearts, minds and relationships are an essential part of the re-creation journey.

And the performing arts offer rich opportunities for creating these shifts.

That’s what I’m thinking.

What do you think?

Where do these three questions take you?

  • What does ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ mean in practice?
  • How do I change myself?
  • How is individual internal change relevant to collective political, economic and social change that leads to more social justice in the world?







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