Definitions.

In insurance, so much depends on definitions. Policies are written by and for lawyers, and whether or not you have coverage for particular situations depends on everything from commonly accepted definitions of words, legally determined definitions of words, and even sections in the policy called, not surprisingly, “Definitions.”

Since most insurance policies are written strictly by the insurer with no input on the contract language from the insured, it means that when there is a point of ambiguity, the term or terms will be defined in a way to benefit the insured. For example, there are policies that refer to damage to “your insured auto” (and blah blah blah) “and its equipment”… with some exclusions and exceptions and “givebacks” and all sorts of convoluted stuff. But let’s talk specifically about that phrase “and its equipment.”

Does this include your baby’s car seat?

I can’t give you a complete answer on this. I can tell you that while it could be successfully argued that your baby’s car seat is not your car’s “equipment,” it used to be equally likely that it could be successfully argued that since you did not use the car seat anywhere but in the car, what else would it be other than your car’s equipment? These days, most car seats can be used in other ways and in other places outside your car, so the auto insurance companies have a stronger legal basis. But it’s a little ambiguous, and it’s good PR for auto insurance companies to pay for things that make children safer, so most auto insurance companies have decided to just let it slide and cover it when it’s been in an accident. (A little side note: if you are in even a minor accident while your child is in the car seat, ask your adjuster if they will pay for you to replace it. These seats are only rated for one crash; the straps could be compromised. Realistically, odds are that a minor accident won’t affect a car seat, but why take that gamble? But if you do replace it, please do not give away or resell the old one. Cut the straps so it can’t be used and throw it away or recycle it if that’s a possibility. Don’t keep it in use, because if it might not be safe for your child, why would you want to put someone else’s child at risk? </soapbox> #stillusinghtmltags)

Anyway.

When I was in college, I had several classes taught by the head of the Theatre and Television Arts Department, the late John Steven Paul — or JSP, as everyone called him. I had memorized an Oscar Wilde quote that I appreciated, and I wrote it on the front of a notebook I used in the class.

“To define is to limit.” –Oscar Wilde

We had to turn in the notebook periodically, and one day I got it back and saw that it had more words on the front. After being annoyed for a moment that someone else wrote on the front of my notebook, I thought about what it now said.

“To define is to limit.” –Oscar Wilde
“To limit is to define.” –JSP

If you look at it purely objectively, it does seem reflexive. But it’s the connotation of the words that really made me think. The first quote puts defining things into a negative light. It suggests that by defining something, you are forcing it into a small space, where defining becomes confining. I had always thought of the Wilde quote as referring to people. If you define someone — if you stick a label on them — you so often think of them as being confined by that label and whatever biases you have about that label.

But the second quote put it in a new light for me. Instead of suggesting that you were forcing something into a smaller space than it might warrant, it suggested to me that you were rescuing it from the vagueness of abstraction. Until you limit it, it could be anything. And that may sound great, but unlimited potential can result in lack of direction and a void of information.

Let me give you an example related to improv. One of the tenets of improv is “don’t ask questions.” This doesn’t mean, of course, that you can never ask questions, and if you want to talk more about when to break rules in improv, we’ll have that conversation another time. What the “rule” means is that you don’t have to get environment- or situation-defining information from your scene partner; you have the right and even the obligation to create it. Don’t start a scene with a line like, “Hey, what’s that?” It puts the burden of the scene on your partner. Improv scenes are created by the words people say (and to an extent the actions they mime, although that’s another discussion for another day), and when you fail to create something with your first line, the scene has that limitless potential. It could be anything. But until someone says something concrete (“This bagel is disgusting”) the scene is completely potential energy and not at all kinetic energy. Nothing happens, because you’re hung up on what could occur. To move forward, you have to put a limit on that could. It could be a scene about anything… but now, we’ve limited it to a scene that springs from an observation that this bagel is indeed disgusting. We’re not forcing it to be smaller than what it is. We’re forcing it to be smaller than infinite, which is inherently incomprehensible.

In improv, though, everything that has not been limited by way of dialogue (or specific mime work — again, let’s discuss that later) is still indefinite and limitless. “This bagel is disgusting” tells you nothing other than that the character speaking wanted to say exactly what was said. It doesn’t tell you why the bagel is disgusting. It doesn’t tell you where the bagel came from. It doesn’t even tell you if that character is being honest. Not until the next line, or often the next several lines, come do you know any more information. The course of an improv scene is usually made up of a combination of drawing limits on the infinite, and then playing within that space.

So, my ultimate thought in all of this: how do you define yourself?

Are you the sum total of your thoughts and feelings and actions? Are you defined by the work that you do, the passions that you have, the family and friends that you keep? If you are defined by the limits that you establish for yourself, are you establishing those limits based on inherent knowledge and will, or are you using limitations given to you by others? (I think it’s probably a combination of both — you have to be true to yourself, but you also do have social responsibilities that you cannot ignore if you want to stay within society.)

I think that when we fear change, some of it is objective. If I leave my job, how would we afford the mortgage? If I move to another state, what will happen to my local friendships? But I think a lot of it is that we have decided on a definition for ourselves by placing all sorts of limits where limits need not be, and we fear that by removing those limits, we will see ourselves as we fear we may truly be: virtually infinite potential, with an obligation to turn all of that could be into am.

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This entry was posted in Improv, Thinky Thoughts, Words, Words, Words, Work and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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