On April 1st, 1921, JL Moreno set a stage in Vienna, Austria with a throne and a jester’s hat, invited the audience of over 1,000 people to step up and psychodramatically take on the role of the King or the Fool and opine about the future of post-WWI Austria.
The audience was horrified at the audacity of someone professing to be the King of Austria: in their eyes, that amounted to blasphemy or treason, and they wanted no part of this improvisational experiment. While the Jester is often viewed as the wisest person on the Court, that night, the audience thought Moreno was a fool. He basically fell flat on his face.
Many would say that Moreno fell flat on his face that night, and that it was a complete failure. But was it?
Rather than be defeated by the experience, Moreno took what he had learned – for example, the importance of warm-up, or helping a group to become ready, willing and able to move into action – and further conceived what became the first stage in the triadic system of psychodrama – Sociometry. In other words, if you don’t warm people up, they won’t feel safe enough to participate.
Not only did Moreno not shrink from his desire to challenge norms after his big “failure” that night, but he continued throughout his life to question them through his actions. When other therapists were seeing clients individually within the confines of their office doing analysis, he was out in the world working with groups of people no one else was treating: prostitues, refugees, psychotic patients, prisoners and runaway girls. He continued to challenge what was “normal” and acceptable time and time again, and in so doing, brought together communities of people that heal each other. As a result, he is considered to be the creator of “Group Psychotherapy.”
Like many of us who have taken a big leap, Moreno was somewhat stunned at his own behavior, saying, “As I look back on that night, I am amazed at my boldness… ”
His boldness got me thinking about how often have I not taken a risk because I was afraid I might look like a fool, or that I might fall flat on my face. It got me thinking about the importance of courage, which from the French – couer – means heart. It got me thinking about how important it is to follow my heart when my inner critic says, “Don’t!” or “You can’t!” It got me thinking about the meme I’ve seen so many times that says, “What if I fail?” with the response of, “Oh, but my dear…but what if you fly?”
Moreno’s willingness to risk and potentially fail continues to inspire me, and on this 98th Anniversary of that first Psychodrama, what I do know is that when I have taken risks and failed – which I have done many times in my life – if I can focus on what I learned rather than on what I did wrong or on beating myself up for taking the chance in the first place, I can transform the experience into one of post-traumatic growth, and come out the other side better for having leaped. It is the Jester who knows that laughing at herself for her “failures” and learning from them will only make her wiser.