Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Pure Science Of Understanding Human Beings

When I dress myself up, I'm engaged in the pure science of understanding human beings; experiments in who I am and who I might be.

I make discoveries about who they are, who you are, and who we are. When I dress up I am taking on the greatest subject matter of all. There is nothing I could learn that is more vitally important.

Where does this go after preschool, really? Costume boxes are rarities even in most kindergartens, and they're certainly not there in elementary schools or middle schools or high schools. Oh sure, there they are, stored away backstage or in a closet reserved for the theater department, if there is a theater department, which there probably isn't any more. And even so, is that the only time we think we need for this, a set aside hour or two once a week or at the end of the day, for the most important exploration of all?

We dismiss it as child's play, as "just pretend," as something for the playground, to be left behind as we get older, but come on: we're designed for this, we human beings. How else do you explain that long aisle of cosmetics in the drug store? How else to you explain all those young men in their tough-guy goatees? How else do you explain those button-down lawyers who wear black leather to ride motorcycles or middle class housewives in knee-high boots with four-inch heels? And really, what else could explain camouflage pants, costume jewelry, dreadlocks, or the exploding popularity of holidays like Halloween and Mardi Gras?

I'm not making fun of anyone here. This is serious work we do when we try on costumes. It changes, however temporarily, how we see ourselves and how others see us. It puts us into different shoes, literally. It shows us a new world and helps us better understand the worlds that exist inside the other people.

When we're wearing, say, a super hero costume with a heart on the chest, not only are we ourselves emboldened, but we embolden those we encounter to share a piece of themselves that often lies hidden on the flip-side of the mirror-face we show the world on most day.

I'm lucky to have in my circle of friends, many adults who have re-discovered, or never forgotten this curricula of costumes. We know that an evening in a pink bunny get-up can sometimes teach us more than a year of therapy. 

This is how the science of who we are is done. It is not mere frivolity, but rather the most serious work we do. Putting on a costume, and accepting the costumes of others, then playing together: this is how we most directly come to understand and even love the human beings with whom we must live.

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Anonymous said...

When my younger son was 4 he became about 7 different people a day. We stocked up on costumes and it was so much fun! I agree that we should all enjoy costume therapy no matter what age we are or what grade we teach!

Jessica Dotter said...

The case for more childhood AND adulthood LARPing ... Love it. Thanks for the thoughtful post!

Tree said...

My 4 year old boy is crazy about dressing up at the moment. He's gone from socially inept to confident in social situations, just by wearing a fireman's outfit/hat or a pirates costume. It's an amazing transformation.
Amy @