The Philosophy of Being Prepared: What Improv Taught Me

Credit: Before It's News. Click for more.
Credit: Before It’s News. Click for more.

When I was a kid, I belonged to an organization remarkably similar to the Boy Scouts (except for both genders and religiously based) in which you learn to “Be Prepared”. I learned First Aid and knot tying and wilderness survival (I mean–I also learned cake decorating and how to identify shells, but that doesn’t apply here). I was memorizing how to be ready for anything–especially the worst. A little later, I joined an Improv team which I discovered I liked SO MUCH better than play-acting because I didn’t have to memorize lines and worry about forgetting them. After 2-3 sessions of training, I was much less nervous about going up on stage with nothing prepared than I was going up for a speech. The difference was, in Improv, you learn principles about story telling and good gamesmanship. You learn to save your partner if they get stuck (and they learn to save you). You learn to  treat everything your partner says and does like fact and to build from there. You learn how to adapt to your constantly changing environment.

Emergency Managers talk a lot about resiliency which is how well stuff resists damage. It can be applied to buildings, the environment, networks of people and processes, etc. If I wanted to be “resilient,” I would pack a solar charger in my evacuation bag so that I could charge my cell phone if we lost power. But if the cell tower goes down or becomes overloaded, a cell phone is mostly useless. So if I wanted to be resilient, I should buy a satellite phone. But that’s prohibitively expensive (and you’d only get, like, 1 minute of time every 24 hours, so….) The thing about Emergency Management is: there’s always something worse that could happen. We literally cannot plan for every scenario. Instead, we plan for the most likely scenarios and make our communications towers as strong as possible so that hopefully it won’t get knocked down in a storm. This is our current “Being Prepared” philosophy. It works, but I think it needs something.

The temptation of “Being Prepared” is to plan to exert control over your environment. This is motivated by fear. It’s scary to feel out of control; you want to memorize lines so that you can say them at the right time and return the theater to a familiar place. But disasters are an Improv game. The environment changes constantly with new information, arriving responders, evolving problems. There are surprises which require creative solutions. “Being Prepared” should be about learning the tools of response. It should be about giving yourself lots of options by both bringing a solar charger (just in case) and packing quarters for a pay phone (just in case). I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but preparing to adapt will be much less scary than preparing to control. You can’t pack everything you’ll ever need (that’s what houses are for), but you can learn how to be adaptable. Here’s how to get started:

* read all those cool articles about how to make things with paracord or duct tape. (i.e. pack stuff that has more than one use or that can open up potential uses in other things. Click on the pic above, for instance.)

* buy a (small) survival manual AND download some apps (it’s called redundancy and it helps us be more resilient)

* meet your neighbors (it’s overwhelmingly likely that they’ll be your partners in this Improv game. Besides, two minds–and sets of tools–are better than one)

* expect to be fearful, anxious, sad, etc. and get what you need for emotional support.


How about you? Is it hard to give up control? What worked for you? Tell us below!


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