Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Process is Our Most Important Product

Originally posted on February 4, 2013

In the 1950s and ‘60s the General Electric company—abbreviated GE—had as its motto “Progress is our most important product.” It occurred to me in contemplating the difference between improvisational theatre and psychodrama that one of the more valuable features of the latter is that in psychodrama the process is made explicit. In theatre there is still the effort to maintain the illusion that what is happening on stage is sort of real. In psychodrama or other kinds of action explorations, the illusion of reality is hardly important; more important is the mental liberation associated with the procedure that invited people to deconstruct what others took to be definitive. It dissolved the “given” and revealed the structure that gave rise to the illusion: The decision became less important than what went into making the decision.

This is key, because much of psychodrama involves re-thinking what had been decided upon in the past. Many identities and relationships are predicated on decisions made based on childish thinking, phony social mores, illusions and desires, and outright lies. Some lies were not consciously thought of as lies, but rather as truths which we dutifully passed along. Prejudices were often sustained in this fashion. Drawing what was in the background, implicit, half-buried, into the light, clarifying, defining, giving names to it, allows it to be refined, re-examined, re-constructed.

One of the major advantages to psychodrama and to a varying degree, drama therapy, is that it uses a remarkably user-friendly language based on the word-unit, “role,” to describe the story-like nature of thought and experience. People most naturally think not in abstract categories but rather in narrative. More refined theory is only a small fraction of the thinking even of people who think in those terms. Everyday life is storied, and role is, as I say, an implicit if not explicit unit of story.

Making the underlying story explicit, as well as the verbal methods, frames, for exposing and exploring this story in light of present consciousness—and witnessed and helped by others—makes the unconscious role taking people do an act that can be re-experienced as conscious role playing. That is, our reaction patterns are re-cognized as something that can be provisional rather than given, temporary or even tentative rather than final. This adds a great deal of flexibility to thought. Life becomes not the playing out of a script inherited as status from family and culture, but in a more modern sense, a more existential sense, changeable. (All these, admittedly, are abstractions attributed in part to a culture in which social mobility has been greatly increased.) The point here is that we can use the tools of language to facilitate our creating our own lives—and in a larger sense, participating in our own evolutionary process.

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