Whether your schtick is playful or mean-spirited, we all have a side-gig for dealing with challenging situations. We call this our "act," and if you don't think you have one, guess again.
One of my favorite performances—Yes, there are multiple.—is humor. It is a craft I've been honing since middle school after disfiguring my face in a freak accident. For me, cracking jokes took the pressure off by getting people to focus on my words instead of my appearance. Who knew it would lead to a career. Even so, not all acts are worth noting. Some are downright nasty. You know that scene where you (or someone you love) plays the role of victim, martyr, delinquent, or egocentric villain, rehearsing the same lines over and over again until the curtains close? That shit is no bueno. It is also an automatic response to something else.
There are things in life that trigger us to behave a certain way. For instance, if a coworker corners you in the break-room and accuses you of stealing their lunch when you know damn good and well it was Janice from accounting who took it, your "automatic" may be to get defensive—puffing up your big body and throwing your arms in the air—prompting them to do the same in return. It seems ridiculous on paper, but this sort of thing happens every day, and most people aren't even aware of it.
There was a man I met on Day Two of emotional boot camp who, unconsciously, taught me a lesson. Our instructor that evening paired us up into small groups and sent us off to have dinner together. To avoid confusion, we all rode together in one car. By the time we got to the restaurant, I was ready to punch him square in the face. Instead, I bit my tongue and listened as he shook his expensive wristwatch in my face and bragged about his job, car, and the numerous hearts he broke each week. Toward the end of the meal, he said something so ridiculous that I quipped back with a sarcastic blow to his ego (shocking, I know). We parted ways the moment we got back to headquarters, moving as far away from each other as we could get and disappearing into the massive crowd.
The next morning, after shooting his mouth off in class, the instructor put him on the hot seat. Calling a person out and holding them accountable—drilling them to "dig deep" into their act to expose vulnerabilities while everyone watched—was one of the most effective tactics used in the workshop. It seems as though, no matter who they were confronting or what they were talking about, those of us sitting in the audience could totally relate to whatever that person was feeling.
At some point, the man being questioned brought up a conversation he had with someone at dinner the night before. My heart began pounding. Fearful of getting singled out for whipping game on him in the restaurant, I scooped my purse off the floor and made my way toward the exit; that's when he came clean about his reason for acting a fool. Spoiler: He was not the egomaniac I made him out to be. It turns out he signed up for the class after learning that his father was gay. Same as me, he was struggling to find closure.
Many people are milling around aimlessly these days—their minds on automatic-pilot—navigating through the fog and debris, searching for answers. We are fragile, all of us, which is understandable considering what we've been through together, but some of our acts are out of control, causing a domino effect throughout the nation. We are born into this world without our permission. None of us asked to be here: not you, your friends, or your families. Whatever challenges we face independently are the wildcards of life, often imbalanced and almost always unfair. As you're scrolling through your day, acting and reacting, remember that the vast majority is doing the same and cut them some fucking slack. The only way to end a civil war is to BE civil to one another, so let's get our acts together and do that before things get worse.