Life is our Scripted Stage Work

“Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. ”

Macbeth soliloquy

This post isn’t going to be as cynical as Shakespeare’s poor old MacBeth, but that quote came to mind when I was thinking about the subject of living our lives by scripts.


I consider myself very fortunate to know a few exceptionally intelligent people because it is always a learning experience to discuss things with them, and they have to be patient with me sometimes.   In this case, a good acquaintance of mine, AlanV, brought up the idea that we interact with others on the basis of having an inventory of scripts.  In other words, we learn what we think is the right and appropriate view on everything in our lives, then have “scripts”, or preconceived ideas formed into words, phrases and sentences which we pull out and use when we deem it the right time and place.

A very basic example of a script is in opening a conversation with someone.  In Canada in February when the temperature gets above freezing, we might start with a script like “pretty nice day eh?”  Other conversation openers with someone we don’t know might be “so what do you work at?”  Or, to facilitate a bit of social time with someone you will say, “let’s go for coffee”.  We have a thousand scripts for a thousand situations.  In that sense, we are like actors on a stage, pulling from memory the right line for the right moment in the play.

Of course there is plenty of room for spontaneity and improvisationalism in our lives too, but for the important things, we tend to stick to the script.  The script reflects our values and is designed to advance our objectives or protect our dignity.

One of the problem with scripting is that we can get into social situations where our script doesn’t work for them, and the social group wants us to change our script so that we fit into the group.  This is a case where we need to make a decision about whether or not it is worthwhile to leave our individuality in favour of a group consensus.  Obviously this will be good sometimes, not so good other times.

Another place we need to be careful about is getting too stuck on our scripts.  Things change, we change, we learn, new information comes in.  Even if our old script has worked for the last 25 years without fail, it may fail one day and we need to revise the script for something more appropriate.  One of the problems with group scripts is that there is always a big resistance to change because it isn’t just one person who has to buy into it, but pretty much everyone has to buy in.  Change often makes us feel uneasy so the comfort of a status quo group can feel good, but is mildly delusional.

Probably the worst thing we can do though is use scripts that don’t resonate with us.  That’s sort of like being one thing and speaking another.  The idea is a lot easier to accept than actually doing it though but it’s a healthy practice to keep all that in line with the soul!

Living one’s truth though is a great way to mental and emotional health….and may we all be healthy!


2 thoughts on “Life is our Scripted Stage Work

    • Misalignment probably occurs most when there are competing objectives or competing interests. A great example is to make a study of listening to between-period interviews of hockey players. Now if there was ever a scripted world, that is the epitome of one. Both questions and answers come from an inventory of scripts designed to promote the team as a whole. Now listen careful when they are asked about the coach, who is known to be not liked…….a misalignment of a scripted glowing tribute is by far the most common response. The same occurs when the coach is asked to evaluate the opposing team…… is almost always very complimentary, and nuanced toward the truth at best. In both cases, their truth is deemed to be counter-productive. In the latter case, they don’t want the opposing team to feed off the emotion of feeling insulted and come out like gangbusters in the next game.

      Another example would be customer service at large corporations. If you ever try to make a case for service which is not on their scripted list, but argue it on the basis of common sense, you will get nowhere unless you move your case up the ladder into higher management. The initial customer service rep knows you make total sense and are likely right but he/she is not allowed to get off script and cannot help you no matter what you say. That has to be a tough job for them sometimes!

      Finally, you join an organization that does something really good and you want to be a part of it. However, that organization has a few minor things you disagree with but you are expected to affirm your agreement. It would be common to accept the script of those minor things you disagree with so you don’t lose your opportunity to do great things that are important to you.

      Fear or pride can also push people into misalignment. Pride may push someone present themselves as a bit more successful, a bit more happy, a bit more satisfied that what they are. Fear can do the same thing. So a script, for instance, on how important or high-status their job is, is a misalignment of what they know otherwise.

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