Getting to Yes, And

Reverend Doctor Samuel Wells:God, Marriage And Improvisation


Reverend Doctor Samuel Wells

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Kelly connects with Reverend Doctor Samuel Wells, The Vicar of St. Martin in the Fields – a scholar whose book, “Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics,” suggests that improv is an ideal teaching tool for developing ethical habits. Dr. Wells also talks about his views on marriage, in light of his years at the Duke Divinity School when laws were introduced to prohibit gay marriage.

KL: In looking to find ‘solutions,’ to our problems, you talk about the need to stop trying to work ‘for’ people and start being ‘with’ people.

SW: And stop thinking about the world solution. I mean, that’s something that improvisation has taught me, because there is something about ‘for’ that actually both controls and concludes the narrative, whereas there’s something about ‘with’ that says, it’s not actually a big deal where we go.

The Harvard business guru Ron Heifetz talks about the difference in leadership between the challenge for the gorillas of the leopard, and the hierarchy that develops amongst the gorillas to respond to the leopard – who’s the wisest and the strongest and so on. And then along comes somebody with a gun, and that hierarchy then has to change, and then we have to work out what worked to survive against the leopard they need to keep, what they need to jettison because it’s irrelevant to the gun, and what they need to find from their history that they didn’t need to survive against the leopard that they need to survive against the gun and that’s improvisation.

KL: In effect, reality has changed – and it will always be changing – so we’re always awash in mistakes.

SW: That’s actually all there is. All there is, is making mistakes, and turning those into opportunities and gifts. There’s nothing else in life. You know, we sort of think in a marriage, or in a parent/child relationship, or in a friendship or in an institution: these other guys cross the road, they must be having a great time because they never seem to argue. But those are simply people that haven’t drawn on the resources of their mistakes, intentions and conflicts, and found a way to bring those back into the relationship or institution. They’re headed for trouble.

Reincorporation is just crucial. A line of the improv teacher Keith Johnstone that is very close to my heart is that “improvisation is like a person walking backwards, we look into the future and we despair, because we don’t know what to do in the future.” Well, that’s because we’re looking in the wrong place, we should be looking at the discarded materials from the past and reincorporate those.

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