Thursday, February 05, 2009

Building roads with blood on your shirt

In the car on the way home from a very satisfying class tonight, I heard a Talk of the Nation interview with Lt. Col. John Nagl, an officer whol helped write the Army Field Manual credited with making the surge successful. He was talking about what a formidable challenge Afghanistan will be, and about the importance of the nation-building efforts. He said that the most important weapon against the Taliban is roads: where the roads end, the Taliban begins. Roads create the possibility for farmers to get their products to market, and thus provide an alternative to the opium trade. Roads also provide access to the region for our military forces.

Nagl then went on to tell an anecdote with an Afghani man who worked as a road-builder. The man had been shot in a Taliban ambush, but the next day he appeared at work still wearing the same bloody shirt that he had been wearing when he was shot, because he knew how urgent it was that roads continue to be built in his country.

As actors and creative people, we are road-builders for our world. Barack Obama writes about the paramount importance of empathy in his book, and empathy is what we traffic in as actors. We strive to embody the experience of others, not only credibly, not only compellingly, but in a way that makes the experiences of others immediately, palpably, transparently present. It is this capacity to imaginatively project ourselves into the skins of other people that is our greatest hope.

It is likely that many of us will be ambushed and end up with blood on our shirts, figuratively speaking, as the economy continues to unravel in the coming months. It will be at that time, more than over, that our communities can benefit from our efforts to keep hope alive, through the imaginative, affective roads that we build in our work. As Winston Churchill quipped: "If you're going through hell, keep going." In a time when the real world, everywhere you look, is grim, our ability to open the way to imaginary worlds may just be the thing that keeps us on our feet.

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco ( an acting class in Los Angeles and San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

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