“Man speaks least in his own person. Give a man a mask and he’ll tell the truth.” ~Oscar Wilde
One of the greatest things about creative expression is the freedom to try on perspectives and behaviors that you wouldn’t normally choose for yourself. As we get older, and more clear about “who” we are, we tend to narrow our range of expression. “No, no, I don’t dance,” or “Ask Jessie, she’s the singer,” or “I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler!” are some of the ways adults might politely pass up an opportunity for self-expression. Even more subtly, one might describe oneself as having a positive outlook on life, and as such may resist a perfectly appropriate impulse to grieve, or deny oneself the right to make a complaint when mistreated. It is an act of courage for an adult to venture into an expressive form that falls outside the recognized ego.
Fortunately, for children, trying on alter egos is a matter of basic healthy development. A child shape-shifts easily into whatever form most aptly expresses the direction of imaginative play. Alter egos arise whenever they are needed, to respond to the opportunities each moment presents. A hero in a cape and mask may swoop in to clean up the cereal the “bad guys” spilled. A little lion might let out a good roar at the park when a bigger kid cuts in line for the slide. A small doctor is suddenly on the scene when mommy stubs her toe. A couch pillow is turned into a turtle shell while mommy gives the insurance rep on the phone the ol’ what-for.
During this month, when society gives adults and children alike full permission to experiment with alter-egos, observe your own response to the opportunity and take notes as you watch children choose their costumes and fully “put them on.” Also, come visit us at the Friday Parent/Child Art Group, from 9:30 to 11, and make masks, wands, shields, and paper dress-up people with us, while we practice with pretend play and alter egos, during this festive month of October.
The arts provide a place where adults can practice the healthy fluidity and flexibility that comes from trying on a wide range of perspectives and styles of communication. And children remain the very best of all teachers!