From the audience in the concert hall pictured in the photo, I once saw a music student who I had been collaborating with, performing on stage. At some point in the performance I suddenly had the visceral feeling that I was watching myself perform, as if in an out-of-body experience. I had an inkling but did not fully realize until a year later how much this had to do with the practice of putting myself in my students’ place. Since then I have come to expect this kind of experience in collaborative relationships.
To put myself in someone’s place, I first imagine I am the person, whether or not I know anything about them. When I am with a collaborator I imagine that I am physically in their place and orientation, in whatever environment we share. Then I imagine that I am I, and I am here. From the new place and orientation, I am myself, and here, in the role of my collaborator. Over time I learn more about the new me.
If both (or all) of the collaborators are doing this, they increasingly experience a mutual incorporation of thought, feeling and meaning, typically in a context of learning and creative action. Over time they may speak or act, one as if the other, and even come to physically resemble each other more closely.
Since that night of the concert I have had many adventures putting myself in someone else’s place. It is a freeing experience, because I no longer have to be constantly bound to my opinions and tastes. And overlapping identity knocks down unnecessary social hurdles to productive creativity. Also there are now many people in my awareness, who would not be here if we had not put ourselves in each other’s place.
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