Our lives are ruled by ego – but playing is the antidote
The happiest moments of our lives are when we lose ourselves – in art, in exercise, in love. According to Harvard's Diane Paulus, being able to 'play' and engage in something outside of ourselves is a valuable respite from our egos.
Diane Paulus is the Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) at Harvard University, and was selected for the 2014 TIME 100, TIME Magazine's annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Paulus is the 2013 recipient of the Tony Award for Best Director of a Musical (Pippin). A.R.T.: Eve Ensler's In the Body of the World, Waitress (currently on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theater), Crossing Finding Neverland, Witness Uganda, Pippin (Tony Award, Best Revival and Best Director), The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess (Tony Award, Best Revival, NAACP Award, Best Direction), Prometheus Bound, Death and the Powers: The Robots' Opera, Best of Both Worlds, Johnny Baseball, The Donkey Show.
Her other recent work includes Cirque du Soleil's Amaluna, Invisible Thread At Second Stage, The Public Theater's Tony Award-winning revival of HAIR on Broadway and London's West End. As an opera director, her credits include The Magic Flute, the complete Monteverdi cycle, and the trio of Mozart-Da Ponte operas, among others. Diane is Professor of the Practice of Theater in Harvard University's English Department. She was selected as one of Variety's “Trailblazing Women in Entertainment for 2014" and Boston Magazine's “50 Thought Leaders of 2014."
Diane Paulus: I think play is important because you lose your ego. And we live ruled by our egos and our super egos and rules and I should I shouldn't, I should I shouldn't all day long. And when you play that goes away because you have a focus that is not on yourself. And I think in life we crave those moments when we lose our self. For a country that is as obsessed with his selfhood and celebrity and personhood and identity, I think the great irony is that the happiest moments of our lives are when we lose ourselves. And people lose themselves in so many ways. They lose themselves when they take a jog and all of a sudden you're in that zone. You lose yourself in love. You lose yourself when you have sex. You lose yourself when you're just engaged in nature. These are the moments that we crave and I think I have always been interested in that moment and for me it's come when I've been part of a group. And I think it's because I did theater as a kid and I always found that moment when you could be with a group of people and it didn't matter, you didn't matter anymore.
And of course you matter because you're bringing all of your heart and your soul and your mind to it, but you're involved in something larger than yourself. And what's beautiful about the theater is you always get to begin again. And I think as a director I love that that you always get to start again, and you're not starting again like this back to the same place, you're beginning again and again and again. So everything you do you're building on and everything that you experience in life you can pour into your next endeavor. So I feel very lucky that I'm in a profession where whatever I'm thinking, learning, feeling, stretching my brain, experiencing, family life, health, problems, politics, all of that is fodder for how you can be a better artist. So that all comes into play when you're in a room with other people and you can create something out of nothing. It's that making the invisible visible, which is a very precious thing that we do naturally as kids. And we see it all the time. And that's what I said earlier about audience. An audience actually they want to play too. They want to be engaged. Being engaged is in a way playing, is being allowed a space where you can lose yourself and you can participate and it doesn't mean interactive theatre.
I can be sitting in a chair and watching a great scene between directors and I'm participating and I'm losing myself and I'm engaging and I'm playing, I'm helping to toss that ball back and forth, that invisible ball. I mean I feel the more in the theater that an audience feels like if those actors toss the ball to me I could toss it back, or if I toss that ball onstage they'd toss it back that there's that connection. The more engaged we are. So I'm always looking for those moments where I think it's why I like musicals because we don't sing in life, we just don't. So it's a theatrical point of view. And there's a collusion with everyone in the room that this is not real but we're all going to suspend our disbelief and imagine and play.
It takes a brave adult to play. It’s a kind of subordination, a lessening of your status, a silly exhibition of the child you once were. And that, says Diane Paulus, is why it’s so essential.
Paulus is the Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theater (ART) at Harvard University, so a good percentage of her day is spent encouraging and directing people to appreciate the art of make-believe. What she realized in doing so, and what she’s experienced in her own life, is that losing yourself in something frees you from your ego.
Whether you go for a jog, or paint something, or have sex, or watch a film so absorbing you forget to even eat one kernel of your popcorn – that's a respite from your cerebral, inward-focused self, and that respite is crucial in an age that’s obsessed with the ‘me’, with celebrity, and that's plagued by status anxiety. Play is the great equalizer, as Paulus says: "For me it's come when I've been part of a group. And I think it's because I did theater as a kid and I always found, that moment when you could be with a group of people, and it didn't matter, you didn't matter anymore. And of course you matter because you're bringing all of your heart and your soul and your mind to it, but you're involved in something larger than yourself."
Paulus presents the elegant version of Tyler Durden’s message: "you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake", a sentiment that urges us to live beyond our own limits, to not be caught up in the trapping of our ego, which insists that we are special, and is angry when we’re not treated as such.
Theatre is the way Paulus loses herself; so go out and see a show. Climb a mountain. Read a book. Have sex. Be an audience to something other than yourself. Don’t be afraid to play.Find more about Diane Paulus at www.dianepaulus.net
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What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.