So how do you help people hold to the belief in their unconditional worth despite a society of evidence to the contrary? Well, Christians have for 2000 years shared sacraments, liturgies, and prayer practices to this end (the least we could considering how often we are the ones who make people doubt their self worth). But I'd like to share three structures for communication that I've run across since arriving in New York City that emphasize the worth of each person by affirming each person's self-expression.
The Chord Game
Group singing has long been used to create a sense of community and belonging from churches to protests to music festivals. But if people don't know the words or the melody to a song (or are just self conscious about their voice), they can often feel just as excluded by singing in a group. From the folks at Living Theatre I learned a simple game that circumvents this problem. Everyone stands in a circle with their hands on the backs of the people to either side of them. Slowly they breath in and out, paying attention to the rhythm of the people next to them in an attempt to match cycles. As people breath out, they very quietly breath out on a note, any note that they choose. Gradually, people breath out a louder and louder note, until the whole circle breathes out a chord as loudly as it can. Then, just as gradually, people slowly breath out a softer and softer note, until the whole circle returns to breathing in near silence. It is an incredible experience that made me feel intimately connected to the people around me and empowered to share with them of myself; yet it required absolute no prior skill or knowledge
Before I Die
Everyone has a dream. Not everyone feels like they can achieve their dream. But what is truly sad, is when people don't feel like anyone even cares what their dream is. Civic Center creative studio has found a way to empower more people to share their dreams. It's the Before I Die Toolkit.
The toolkit consists basically of colored chalk, a stencil of "Before I die _____," and an instruction booklet for how to turn an unused wall in your community into a giant canvas where anyone can share their hopes and dreams with the world. The idea was originally developed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, but it has been repeated all over the world, including right here in Brooklyn.
The People's Microphone
Taking a page from the books of previous protests, the folks down at Occupy Wall Street have taken the affirmation of self expression to a new level. Out of a need to communicate to a large crowd without a permit for amplification came the People's Mic. The concept is simple: a speaker addresses a crowd slowly and in short phrases, the crowd in turn repeats everything that the speaker says so that everyone can hear her or him. As a result, the speaker receives the ultimate experience of "being heard"-- an entire crowd repeating back the very words that she or he just spoke, regardless of whether or not they agree with what has been said.
It may not be the fastest way to communicate, but it is one of the most affirming.
These are just a few activities that I run across in my first month in NYC.
What other activities or practices affirm each person's value and the worth of their self-expression?