In her incredibly brave #TED Talk, Monica Lewinsky shares about the public humiliation and cyber-shaming she endured as a result of her very public affair with former President Bill Clinton. She challenges the audience by asking them who among them doesn’t regret something they did when they were 22 years old, and further suggests to the audience that they need to “walk a mile in someone’s shoes” before rushing to judgment.
JL Moreno, the creator of psychodrama, understood the power of stepping into someone else’s shoes and created the technique of role reversal to help us do just that. As human beings, the tendency to quickly assess or judge a person or situation is built into our DNA and our brains: it allows us to feel safer and historically, our survival depended upon it. In this day and age, however, while those threats have lessened, our primal need to quickly judge if someone/thing is dangerous to us is still in full force. Unfortunately, as Lewinsky cites, that judgement can cause irreperable damage, as in the case of Tyler Clemente, a Rutgers University freshman who was severely cyber-bullied after a video of him having sex with a man was put on the internet. He #shame and #humiliation was too intense and killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. He was 18.
Moreno knew that by leaving my own role – physically changing places and taking on your posture, energy, feelings, actions, etc – it would allow me a deeper understanding of who you are, thereby not jumping to conclusions. In so doing, it allows me to activate another part of my brain and lower my survival skills, increasing my capacity for compassion. Even after role reversal, I may still not agree with your position – your thoughts, feelings and actions – but by “feeling into” what it’s like to be you, it will ideally allow me to accept your position and allow us to get along nonetheless. In short, the worst case scenario is that we can agree to disagree.
Moreno described classical role reversal in his poem in Invitiation to an Encounter (1914):
“A meeting of two: eye to eye, face to face
And when you are near,
I will tear your eyes out
and place them instead of mine,
and you will tear my eyes out
and will place them instead of yours,
then I will look at you with your eyes
and you will look at me with mine”
While Moreno’s image is graphic, it does capture the experience of truly reversing roles with another person – me to your role and you to mine. Just think of a world where we were willing to role reverse with each other…there would be fewer misunderstandings, fewer conflicts – on both a micro level, such as in work relationships and on a macro level, as in wars. In the case of someone like Lewinsky, it could have made all the difference and not, in an instant, changed the trajectory of her life for the simple 22-year old mistake of falling in love with the wrong man.
So before you judge, are you willing to mentally role reverse and put yourself in the other person’s shoes? In the case of Tyler Clemente, that willingness – that moment – might have saved his life.
Understanding and being able to facilitate role reversal – and other psychodrama techniques – takes a great deal of training and practice. Action Institute of California offers training workshops devoted to learning Psychodrama, Sociometry and Psychodramatic Bodywork® techniques, as well as providing personal growth workshops for professionals who are looking for a safe space to do their own personal healing work.
In addition, we provide team building, conflict resolution and staff training workshops in business, clinical and medical settings that are tailored to the needs of your organization.