“I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?,’ ” George Bernard Shaw once said. And to open to that “Why not?” takes opening the mind and shifting perspective in order to see things fresh and anew.
You know the feeling of deja vu – when we encounter something new but we feel like we’ve seen it before?
There’s also the opposite, the feeling of vuja de – when we face something familiar, but we see it with a fresh perspective, as if we’re experiencing something completely new.
It may have been George Carlin who invented the term, as the video clip above shows. Or perhaps someone even before Carlin made up the term.
Yogi Berra once quipped, “It’s like deja vu all over again” – the new becomes the familiar. Now we can add, “It’s like vuja de not all over again” – the familiar becomes the new.
To open our minds to the Why Not?, to a world of new possibilities, we need to see the world with a new perspective and not just accept things as is, if it seems like there may be different ways to approach things. All you have to do is ask the questions: Is that the way it has to be? And, Is there a better, or an alternative, way of doing things?
Take the Broadway smash hit play and recent 2016 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama, Hamilton, which tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury Secretary of the U.S., and was written and created by the playwright, composer and actor, Lin-Manuel Miranda.
A few years ago, Miranda was on vacation and while at the airport, he bought a biography of Alexander Hamilton. The story of Hamilton is a familiar one, taught to American students in history classes. But the feeling of vuja de came upon Miranda, and he started envisioning something new from the familiar – the life of Hamilton told as a hip-hop musical, with very little dialogue, and with a diverse cast.
If vuja de hadn’t happened to Miranda, if he hadn’t seen this story with a new perspective, if he had just accepted the status quo with the telling of Hamilton’s life, if he hadn’t asked, Is there an alternative way to tell this story?, then Hamilton would never have occurred.
Miranda wanted the play to be historically accurate, but he reimagined the actors that would play the parts. He cast black and Hispanic actors as Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and other Caucasian historical figures, and in doing so, felt it shouldn’t require any substantial suspension of disbelief by audience members. In other words, he was asking the audience to also experience vuja de when they came to see the play.
“Our cast looks like America looks now, and that’s certainly intentional,” Miranda said. “It’s a way of pulling you into the story and allowing you to leave whatever cultural baggage you have about the founding fathers at the door.” He also noted, “We’re telling the story of old, dead white men but we’re using actors of color, and that makes the story more immediate and more accessible to a contemporary audience.”
“Hamilton is a story about America, and the most beautiful thing about it is…it’s told by such a diverse cast with a such diverse styles of music,” says Renee Elise Goldberry, an actress in the play. “We have the opportunity to reclaim a history that some of us don’t necessarily think is our own.”
And judging by audience reaction, Hamilton has lit a fire in the popular culture. The musical made its Off-Broadway debut at The Public Theater in February 2015, where its engagement was sold out. The show transferred to Broadway in August 2015 at the Richard Rodgers Theater, where it has received enthusiastic critical acclaim and unprecedented advance box office sales, as well as a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. (It won’t be eligible for the Tony Awards till later this year.)
The play Hamilton has demonstrated that if you build it, they will come – meaning, if you give people the chance to experience vuja de, they will gladly and most excitedly open their minds to new possibilities.
Look around you, everything you see is probably familiar. Now close your eyes and re-imagine the familiar as something new. That is vuja de. That’s what Lin-Manuel Miranda did with Hamilton. And that’s what you can do with your way of seeing the world.
That’s how you get to the world of Why Not?; that’s how you get to the world of new possibilities. And that’s how the courage to have Yes be the answer arises.
And that my friends, of and by itself, is the Revolution – that’s how we will change the world into something more positive and beautiful.
Be the change you want to see in the world. Be the Revolution you want to see in the world.
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