My passion and life purpose is developing drama, which
is inherently collective, as a form of wisdom. My expertise is in
playback theatre and drama curriculum theory. I spend most of my mental,
creative time in Fifth Century BCE Greece when drama was born trying
to reshape for modern use the collective experience in the ancient
Lately, I've felt you in the amphitheatre with me.
As I read various seed papers on the Collective Wisdom
website, I am stunned by the resonance between what you are doing
and the archetypal dramatic forms, Tragedy and Comedy. We all desire
life to be a comedy and believe that tragedy is what blocks us from
it. But in the amphitheatre, Tragedy, the dramatic form, was what
the collective had to experience to get to the ‘comedy’
we all desire our lives to be.
Odd as it may sound to you, what I see you doing is
hard, courageous ‘tragedy’ work. The deep aim of Tragedy
was to help the collective bear unbearable knowledge. Tragedy is understood
as a drama of Necessity. The necessary but unbearable knowledge of
Tragedy is that we, the human ensemble, are ‘acting’ in
catastrophic ways that can destroy us utterly.
We have been struggling for fifty years with the unbearable
knowledge that human beings have the capacity to destroy the planet
through weapons of mass destruction and are now struggling with the
knowledge that human activity is 90% responsible for global warming.
From where I sit in the amphitheatre, we are struggling with the unbearable
knowledge that we are the ‘tragic’ enactors of our own
How, we ask ourselves, could such a thing happen? Are
we our own worst enemies or are we simply ignorant of something that
Tragedy teaches us - vital knowledge about how human beings
can unintentionally become the enactors of our own extinction. Aristotle
defines Tragedy as the human situation in which `a former source of
happiness suddenly dramatically reverses into its opposite. We never
intend to engender miserable human conditions, but there is a pattern
in life that ‘flips’ our pursuit of joy into
misery. Modern sociological science has identified a tipping point;
thousands of years ago, the world's first Tragedians discerned a Flip
or flipping pattern.
The Tragic Flip is, for me, the most powerful explanatory
concept for our era. Man’s triumph over nature has flipped into
ecological devastation. The industrial age flipped into the pollution
age. Einstein's scientific genius flipped into weapons of mass destruction.
Fossil fuel discovered in a shale in Pennsylvania in 1849 flips into
global warming in 2007. The freedom to be one’s self on one’s
own terms has flipped into the disruption of human community. These
tragic Flips have an uncanny rightness with Aristotle's notion that
tradegy is a coherent, comprehensive, unified pattern mirroring the
oppositee of our intentions.
Imagine the transformative power in a collective whose
intention is to identify flipping patterns on multiple levels - cultural,
historic, organizational, economic, global, local, industrial, ecological,
spiritual and in personal ‘theatres of life.’ How might
we together seek to transform it? How can we flip the flip? Frankly,
I can think of no more urgent collective initiative.
And collective it must be for us to bear knowledge
of the tragic Flips that afflict us. Our contemporary Sophocles, Vaclav
Havel, says that when we learn individually of the horrors of how
humanity acts, we are filled with despair and helplessness. But, mysteriously,
apprehending unbearable knowledge as part of a collective experience,
such as in live theatre, detoxifies the poisons of despair and helplessness
and we engender “real hope.” Havel is actually referring
to dramatic “catharsis,” whose literal meaning is to detoxify,
to cleanse. In theatre theory, catharsis is defined as the collective
tumble into consciousness of the tragic Flip.
I experienced the mystery of catharsis over and over
in my years as a playback conductor and actor. A whole evening of
death, sorrowful losses, ordinary failure and extraordinary suffering
would leave everyone in the room at the end of the evening radiant,
alive, and filled with hope.
When I said at the beginning of this letter that I
saw collective wisdom practitioners as doing ‘tragedy work,’
what I meant is that the group medium has the power to bring the whole
human collective to the luminous glow of Real Hope. Real hope follows
the blessed detoxification of collective catharsis and only a collective
medium can bring us to it.
Thousands of years ago, a collective human medium was
invented that moved us through confrontation with unbearable knowledge
to Real Hope. In these tragic times, collective wisdom emerges spontaneously
and its practitioners feel it holds real hope that we can radically
change how we are acting on the planet, an evolutionary impulse for
humanity to be active players in the show of life.
And, as we all know, the show must go on.