Personal empowerment

Patty was studying drama at school. She told me about something their drama teacher, Ms. Roberts, asked them to do at school.

"Look down at the ground, just in front of the toes of your shoes," she said. "Don't look at anyone else or talk to them."

They let their shoulders slump forward, hung their arms loosely at their sides, then walked around for a little while without looking at anyone and without talking. After a few minutes Ms. Roberts asked, "How are you feeling?" Patty told me that nearly everyone said they felt sad.

Ms. Roberts then asked them to stand in pairs, staring each other strongly in the eyes. "Put your hands on your hips," she added. "Stand with your feet a couple of feet apart and stare." After just a few minutes everyone said they were feeling angry toward the other person.

"Keep staring at your partner," Ms. Roberts instructed them, "but this time clench your jaws tightly together and make tight fists with your hands." Again they felt angry; some even felt angrier than before, and some said they felt really mad at the other person.

"Now," said Ms. Roberts, "relax the muscles in your jaws and your hands, stand tall, and look the other person in the eyes, blink a couple of times and begin to smile." It didn't take long for one person to do this before the other person smiled back, and everyone was soon saying how much happier they felt.

"Close your eyes," Ms. Roberts continued. "Give the muscles of your shoulders and arms a bit of a wriggle, let your body stand there limply." Soon everyone was saying how relaxed they felt.

"People think that acting is pretending to be something," said Ms. Roberts, "but all good actors know a secret that a lot of other people don't seem to be aware of. If you change your posture and the expression on your face, you begin to change the way you feel. You don't have to try to pretend to be happy or sad. By taking the posture of a person who is experiencing those emotions you actually start to feel it. It is real."

Patty hadn't thought about that before. She hadn't thought that she could begin to change the way she felt by the way she stood, the way she held her body, and the expressions she put on her face. I think Ms. Roberts was teaching her kids about more than drama. Patty was learning some important things about managing her own feelings. She said to me, "I had never thought I could change the way I felt by changing what I did."

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