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Free to dance, or not to dance

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I was recently at an event. It was sort of a business networking type event. As a self employed person I found it hugely useful. The host was something of a motivational speaker, and the material was mostly about acknowledging your value so you don’t sell yourself short in a negotiation or business deal. The whole thing had a kind of self-help vibe, complete with some new age style emotional coddling. There were breathing exercises, gestures of appreciation, story sharing and other practices to help people learn to accept love and love themselves, but in a business context. I realize that sounds kind of strange, but I really go for that kind of stuff, even as I poke fun at it. I think many people, myself included, are walking wounded. And finding supporting communities, no matter what the catalyst, helps a lot of people heal. And thinking of myself as social entrepreneur, I am always interested in ways that people’s financial and ethical selves intersect.

During an intermission the motivational speaker had the sound team turn up some music and encouraged the audience to dance. The host asked people to feel uninhabited, to have fun, and most importantly not to concern themselves with what people thought, or feel self conscious about their skill level. And people did. Almost everyone did. There was nothing provocative, or tantalizing about it. It was intended as a kind of self empowerment exercise, to feel at home in one’s own body. Some people even took the opportunity to get up and dance on stage.

I did a quick self check, as I do when I think about authenticity, and realized I didn’t really feel like dancing. I wasn’t in a bad mood. I’m not ashamed of my body or anything. I was actually really excited to spend the time reviewing the material from the previous session, because it had set some fires in my mind. So, I followed the instructions exactly. I let my body do what felt natural, and made me most happy, what felt right without reference to external pressures. I sat quietly and reviewed my notes.

The result was bizarre. Repeatedly dancing strangers approached me, took the pen and paper out of my hand without asking, and tried to pull me into a dance with them. And I repeatedly politely declined, and went back to my seat. This was met with scoffs and tisks from the other attendees. They wanted to force me, or shame me, into participating in an exercise specifically about about freedom and inhibition. An exercise specifically about not being forced, and not feeling shamed.

I think some people experience some joy in their life, and so they assume that everyone experiences joy the same way, but it’s just not true. Everyone is unique. Everyone has their own preferences, their own passions, their own goals and aspirations, and the fact that people could so quickly lose site of that fact at an event that is specifically designed to remind them of it says something important about the difficulty holding other people’s preferences in mind in our day to day life.

Buckminster Fuller once said that the universe consists of non-simultaneously apprehended events, which he meant as a comment on the role of perception in advanced physics. But Robert Anton Wilson rightly pointed out that the fact of it also has social implications. We assume we all live in the same reality, but no two of us experience it the same way, or in the same order. We all perceive from our own unique and personalized reality tunnel.

So, all you dancing stars, go get down with your bad selves. Be free and uninhibited. Be joyful and happy. I am thrilled by your exuberation. Just please don’t assume that those of us who are happiest doing other things are somehow not free, or inhibited. We simply apprehend reality through a slightly different tunnel.

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