“Don’t let go of your partner’s hand until you find a new one.”
I was in a room full of complete strangers making generous eye contact and extensive handholding. “What on earth am I doing here?”
We were taking an improv class, and it was the most uncomfortable thing I’ve done in a long time.
The whole point of the class was to reduce cynicism. Which, for a millennial in the year 2015 my cynical soul was about as dark as the fair trade black Chemex coffee I drink. Cynicism runs through my veins. Our generation is pre-programmed to question everything, scoff at everyone, and trust no one. Unfortunately, we think we’ve seen it all, so nothing seems to impress us anymore.
But I was tired of being a cynic, so I signed up for the improv class. I had absolutely no idea what was going on. The room was alive and buzzing with energy. There were two options: continue my cynicism and stand in the corner shooting judgmental glares dripping with sarcasm OR jump in and fully participate. For once I decided to dive in headfirst, and I’m so glad I did.
Because I heard the best relationship advice, I’ve ever received.
“If you want to succeed, you must give your partner generous explanation.”
Of course, our instructor was talking about the class. What he meant by that was we needed to assume our partner had the best intentions and was taking us in a positive direction. We couldn’t assume they were trying to steal the show or manipulate the plot. We simply had to trust them and their context.
I realized that the same thing applied to my relationships. If I want the relationships around me to succeed, then I’m going to have to give the people in my life generous explanation.
What that means is trusting that, even on our worst days, we have the best intentions. It means extending the utmost amount of grace. Generous explanations require us to assume that the people in our lives aren’t out to get us.
We’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve got.
If someone forgets to text me back or doesn’t remember my birthday they weren’t trying to screw me over. They were probably busy. Odds are they’re just as forgetful as I am. They might have had a terrible day at work or dealt with some unexpected urgencies.
People are broken with sharp edges; when we get close, we cut each other.
We’re messy. Life can’t be planned out. Improv taught me we can’t predict who will say what or where the next scene will take us. But what we can offer each other is generous explanations for our reactions. We can learn to roll with the punches when we get bruised. If we approach each other from a state of understanding our brokenness and offering grace, then we’ll be able to move forward.
If my relationships aren’t moving forward, it’s probably because I’m not offering generous explanations. It means I’m unwilling to trust the other person and their past to imagine a healthier future. It means I’m so consumed with my own plan or the way things “should” be or what I think is “normal” that anything contrary is an injustice. Just because people are broken doesn’t mean they’re at their worst.
To be broken is actually an invitation to be better.
So I’m trying to give generous explanations. I’m not always very good at it. But it’s helping me be way less defensive. Instead of trying to foresee each relationship ten steps ahead I’m actually becoming a lot more present. It’s helping me learn how to actually listen to whoever my partner is.
What if we lived our lives full of generous explanation? What if we approached people out of our own brokenness so they could be broken too? What if our cynicism started to melt away to make room for the genuine connection that lies right under the surface?