XVI.

On involving other people in your fun: I love a lot of the “missions” of Improv Everywhere: dozens of people gathering in a park and following instructions from an mp3 played simultaneously; dozens more going slo-mo in a Home Depot; 30 cell phones ringing simultaneously in bag check at the Strand bookstore; a four-act romantic comedy for an audience of one. It’s the time of year when they do the no-pants subway ride, and while I don’t think that one’s a good idea for a teacher (even if I wore – like most of their “agents” – completely unrevealing underwear), I’ve signed up on their mailing list and hope to find something to join in one of these days. I believe in random acts of humor, theater by ordinary people that creates a sense of wonder for other ordinary people, and when they are at their best, this is what they accomplish.

But involving other people in your own story is always dangerous. Read a little deeper into the reports of their missions, read the comments, and you find (some of) the agents making fun of store employees for their accents or attitudes in response to the strange events occurring in their stores. Sure, some people overreact, but what’s the value in trying to kindle a sense of wonder in others when you are self-satisfied or mocking (or even racist) after the mission is completed? And here’s an episode of “This American Life” that tells some of the other side of the story – how a band felt when it realized its sudden popularity was fake, and how a college student felt when mobbed by strangers celebrating his birthday (except it wasn’t his birthday).I find the ethical fine line here interesting, and not so different from the ethical fine lines I’ve encountered blogging, the thin, thin lines that separate one’s own story from a story that not only involves others, but affects them, sometimes in ways that can’t be anticipated or undone. That other person is a person, not just a supporting character in one’s own life…

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