In the U.S., Halloween is observed this Thursday. This historically pagan holiday has evolved over the years into a day of dressing up in costumes and trick-or-treating. Not only do children embrace these rituals, many adults love this day when it’s socially acceptable, if not encouraged, to dress up as a character and take on a different persona. On this one day of the year, many companies allow their employees to go to work in costumes. Some even have costume parties and contests.
Why are so many adults drawn to the idea of dressing up as someone else, perhaps a hero/heroine, an alter-ego or some other persona? Is it because it reminds us of our childhood, a time when it was ok to play make-believe? Does it give us a chance to imagine being someone else, whether that someone is an admired living or deceased figure or a fictitious protagonist? Is it simply a chance to let loose and have some fun away from the everyday routine? Is it another form of escape, similar to following characters in movies and shows that allow us to live vicariously through their adventures?
Whatever the specific reason(s) may be, what if we were to take the essential benefits of dressing up as a character and infuse them into the other 364 days of the year? Shall we play with this idea?
What are the essential qualities of the character?
On Halloween night in 2008, a boy showed up at my door trick-or-treating, dressed up as Barack Obama, who was running for president at the time. I’d guess he was about 13, give or take. I remember being struck by his costume choice. I wish I had asked him then why he chose to be Obama, and what about the presidential hopeful he wanted to emulate.
If you were to attend a Halloween costume party, as whom would you dress up? What are the essential qualities of this character that appeal to you? Super power? The respect they command? This character is simply a hoot? Whatever essential qualities you may want to embody and express through dressing up as this character, how might you extend them beyond just one day to other days of your life?
What does being the character bring out in you?
Even though I’ve never been into Halloween, I remember enjoying quite a bit the few chances I got to act in school plays when I was in Macau. Thinking back, I realize it was partly because acting invoked right-brain creativity within that was a refreshing departure from all the rote left-brain memorization of facts that was my education then. Also, while acting, I experienced parts of myself and capabilities previously unknown to me. In one case, the character I played gave me a safe persona to be expressly emotional, when it wasn’t ok otherwise culturally or at home. In another case, I really surprised myself with the confident, commanding public voice I had in character, when I felt timid and insecure as myself every other day.
Could it be that we like dressing up and being in character as someone else such that we can explore those hidden, under-developed parts of ourselves that we believe aren’t safe to show in our normal, everyday existence? How may we give these parts of ourselves more light of day?
How about just showing up as yourself?
Some people dress up for Halloween simply to get into the spirit or because they felt pressured to do so. One year, at a previous company that was really into Halloween, I tried to get into the spirit and showed up at work in an orange fleece pullover. It wasn’t a costume, but I thought I’d at least wear a Halloween color. One of my colleagues laughed and said, “Don’t think you’ve managed to pull it off as a pumpkin. You look more like a carrot stick!” (So much for thinking I was trying, even if minimally!) I’ve also seen my fair share of Dracula and witches, princesses and devils. It’s clear that, for these folks, it isn’t about who they want to be, but rather wanting to participate and being included in a socially sanctioned ritual.
There’s something to be said about wanting to feel included and that we belong. But what if we didn’t need to dress up to be included and to feel a sense of belonging? Even outside of Halloween, how often do we wear masks that we believe we must wear to earn us a seat at the table? What would happen if we simply show up as our authentic selves, no mask and no image to project?
So, there you have it. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts and reactions to any of the questions posed above. To those of you who love Halloween, have a blast!
Photo credit: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/
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