a close friend, we’ll call him tofu, poured his heart out to me recently concerning individuals in his life who lack even rudimentary self-awareness. people who have no understanding of the effect of their actions. people who act in clear defiance of that old ‘do unto others . . . ‘ adage, but perhaps more frustratingly seemingly don’t even realize they’re doing it. people who regard the world and the people in it as serving trays for their needs and desires.
of course being actors (yes, tofu is involved in the manic arts) there’s a certain degree of selfishness that comes with the territory of being a performer. you have to constantly promote yourself, value yourself, even love yourself, your goals, your needs, your interests, it’s part of the job. so in this sense there seems a natural and quite understandable transition for some people from fulfilling the requirements of the job to being a completely self-absorbed prig. it happens, we’ve seen it, not just as actors, but the nature of the biz certainly aids that heinous transformation [reader’s note: i’ll never say ‘biz’ ever again]. so there’s that, and undoubtedly it stinks.
that being said i think tofu was referencing something a little more subtle. a psychology that is not exclusively an actor quirk. this wasn’t about standing perpetually at the metaphorical front of the class to buy yourself professional advantage. tofu was concerned with the remarkable skill of some to consistently make an environment toxic. in this case, an individual in question was making simple problems (by any reasonable person’s standards) into mammoth problems and by doing so compromising available time at the expense of everyone else. [to clarify: imagine you’ve asked me to perform a simple task (pick this up, tie your shoe, etc.) and i refuse to move on from said task until i’ve understood every minute, nagging nuance of how you want me to perform the task. meanwhile, we’ve still got to finish climbing mount everest in the next twenty minutes.] this in turn caused everyone involved in the project to be frustrated, not only at the circumstances at hand, but also that no one has had the gall to grab this individual and explain how unpleasant they make the world. why is this person respected for behavior that is so transparently detrimental to the morale of a room?
[before i continue i accept the potential irony here if someone is currently reading thinking “alexander, you are describing yourself”. if this is the case my sincere apologies for being sir dick (doubly so for writing a post so devoid of self-reflection). in fairness i think i’ll give you the room to inform me, so please humor the rest of this nonsense.]
tofu and i have both spent far too much time trying to analyze what informs such individual’s decisions, what deep psychological conditioning affects their behavior, how we can best respond in the moment to give them what they need and avoid conflict, etc. the truth is none of that actually matters. it’s an endless hole that we climb down only to realize “why am i in a hole?”. we obviously can’t pretend it’s not happening, have seen that causing a fight doesn’t solve anything, but also don’t want to give the poisonous mushroom any room to grow (the poisonous mushroom is the person’s behavior, everyone understood that right?). we’re all terrified of consequence, of hurting feelings, and by doing so our “politeness” is actually being incredibly dishonest. some reading this might be thinking ‘i don’t know what you’re talking about, i tell it how it is!’ which begs the question, are you sure? do you really enter into dialogue with a difficult person neutrally informing them of the reality of their behavior? or rather, do you not place your emotional agenda at the forefront? if you don’t, then you have learned far better than i how to negotiate these circumstances. but since the majority of people i’ve worked with either cause a fight or just accept it (to avoid conflict i suppose), i feel that most share my conundrum. in truth nothing changes, the person continues their aloofly selfish ways and everyone else is grumpy and despondent.
so what do we do? how do we address a person about their behavior who has made a successful life out of poisoning an environment? how do those of us who want to make a room as easy and relaxed as possible counter an individual who actively seeks the opposite?
that’s why this is part 1, because i honestly don’t know. there may not be a part 2 unless i can think of some truly profound solutions.