Acting sane

I’m currently reading Keith Johnstone’s book on Impro (more about this on my other blog) and one of his observations about spontaneity and creativity particularly caught my eye.

He believes that people are all innately creative and spontaneous, but self-censor in order to appear sane and safe. He has a very elegant theory that “sanity is actually a pretence, a way we learn to behave.” We all act in predictable ways to fit in with society and avoid looking crazy, and then we go to the theatre to see people acting out what we can’t do ourselves.

But the observation that most interested me was that: “[People] understand that their own sanity is a performance, but when confronted by other people they confuse the person with the role.” It’s like it’s only me who has to manage my mind: everyone else seems to do it naturally. Maybe we all secretly think we’re crazier than the people around us, not realising that, behind the masks, we’re all managing our minds in different ways.

His observation working with drama students was that they will usually admit to suppressing all kinds of thoughts for fear people would think them ‘insane’ (perhaps no great surprises there…). But what about all the positive things we do for our minds, that we don’t tell other people about for fear we’ll be seen as ‘crazy’? If we can admit to the process that goes into looking and feeling sane, maybe we’ll see that we’re doing a bit better than we thought.