If you’ve been to a few Creative Motion events, you might have noticed the regulars making a weird pinching gesture at each other. Don’t worry, we generally don’t pinch without being asked…but we do keep a supply of imaginary “positivity pills” on hand for emergencies.
This particular silliness started back at the end of 2009. Some of the regular circus gang gathered at a local pub to bid a rowdy farewell to one of our own. He was shipping back overseas at the time, at the formal request of his country-of-origin’s military.*
*He’s fine. I’m merely providing historic context for the story. Sweet of you to worry though.
As the end of the decade was also rapidly approaching, the conversation turned inevitably towards the treacherously fail-filled topic of New Year’s Resolutions.
When my turn arrived, I was filled with far amount of holiday cheer. I was also filled with a fair amount of single malt, on account of our guest of honor being toasted so vigorously.*
*The point being I was toasted when I was called upon to toast, and that might have steered the course of history somewhat towards the shores of the insane. Fortunately, that’s home for us clowns, and thus I’ll get back to the story.
Rather than raising my glass to declare a resolution as others had, I raised my empty hand aloft and hooked my fingers as though I were holding an invisible pill. So armed, I declared that 2010 was to be the year I took my “hippy happy positivity pill” and learned to not be so damned negative. Emboldened by laughter and cheers, I invited all present to join me in a dose.
Rarely unwilling to help a punchline, my circus friends all held up their own mimed tablets and as a group we self-medicated with imaginary positivity.
In that silly moment, the positivity pill was born.
Looking back, I like to imagine that the power of a room full of people making a decision to be more positive actually gave these imaginary pills magic powers. Through the more sober eye of truth, I’ve come to believe that everyone is searching for tools to battle nastiness and self-doubt.
The circus arts that have become our addiction inherently are, by the fact that they are the sort of things clowns do, kind of silly. You have to own this to move forward, and pushing past our nearly instinctual desire to not look stupid in front of our peers isn’t easy.
Even if it is with malice aforethought that I walk onto a stage and make a complete ass of myself, I still have to take a moment to silence that terrified little voice that is convinced the other kids are going to make fun of me.
It seems that, even when playing the fool, no one likes to feel foolish.
We learn to respond to this cruelty in childhood because it is an unfortunate societal norm. It gets bred into our habits. Perhaps more dangerously, it gets bred into our thinking. Ultimately, we become automatons capable of shutting each other up and down without even realizing that it is happening.
A well-aimed harsh word can stop a person’s personal evolution in its tracks. Part of “taking the pill” was accepting a more mature responsibility for this schoolyard-learned power. The night our group made its humorous little pact, we undertook a playful thought experiment based on the simple idea of choosing not to undermine each other.
Now everyone is snarky some of the time. I’m willing to write that off as natural, perhaps even acceptable, human behavior. Just like the unholy human addiction to puns, the mind simply enjoys cleverness, wit and the odd well-worded zinger. What I’m talking about is when that sarcasm turns dark and undermines another person.
If you remove negativity as a response option, social dynamics change dramatically. In the situation we created, you’re left with one of two choices: Become more positively-minded or go home and be negative…all by yourself.
As a point of full disclosure, I admit a few people dropped our of our immediate social circle. Likely on account if becoming a bit too “hippy happy” for their tastes. It’s a lot to ask of anyone to change their habits for even a few hours at a time, and I don’t hold a grudge towards anyone who isn’t in a place to make that commitment.
For the rest of us, the “positivity pill” experiment was transformative success.
Those that remained found themselves in the truly rare position of being surrounded by people who were equal parts willing to learn, able to teach and dedicated to putting aside negativity and doubt while they went about it.
Moreover, the positivity pill’s well-intended nature provided us a gentle tool to help police each other. Rather than allowing negativity within our circle to breed, we had a non-confrontational way to let a friend know when their negativity was beginning to affect the group. We simply grinned, offered the potential offender an imaginary pill and went on about our business knowing that the message got delivered in a more positive way.*
*Considering the alternative is publicly calling someone out for being a complete tool, I consider this a grand improvement on previous methodology.
Nurturing environments, no matter how strangely they are created, accelerate learning. Circus arts are quirky fusion of sport and art, and I think exploring their creative aspects is dependent on a non-adversarial environment.
I’m glad the “positivity pill” has given our community a tool to get there, and as it grows I plan to keeping my prescription filled and ready.