Would You Rather Be the Bigger Expert … or the Kinder Person?
I attended a talk recently, where a well known local actress unabashedly bad-mouthed a fellow (rather famous) Australian actor. Her comments came within a conversation about living with wisdom, of all things.
Said actress began by waxing lyrical about her craft and how she disappears into a story to express the truth of a character. At this point she had me on side. I used to study acting, so I can relate (and because I was never an accomplished enough actress to pull off such a disappearing act, I can appreciate the artistry it takes).
However, she then went on to note that some of her fellow thespians are less than adept at this form of truth-telling. She wasn’t talking about the likes of me, the once hopeful student who tended towards over-thinking my lines. She was referring to other professionals. Ones who pretend. Ones who put on a performance rather than lose themselves within a scene. They, according to her, are liars.
At this point, it took some effort on my part to be a generous audience member and give her the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps, I thought, she didn’t mean to sound mean. Perhaps it was no more than an unskilful choice of wording on her behalf.
But then she went and said her colleague’s name, jokingly obscuring it with a cough. ‘Did I say that out loud?’ she quipped. ‘It just came out, like a burp.’
She laughed. I squirmed in my seat. Did she really just call this man a liar because his acting skills fail to meet her impeccable standards? Yes, she did. And she continued to laugh about it. A nervous few giggled with her, most likely out of awkwardness, but otherwise the auditorium was silent. Her judgemental sentiment, I’m pleased to say, bombed.
I have no idea what personal history these two people may share, but the actress’ attempt to showcase her artistic integrity was self-defeating. Nobody ever really looks better by putting someone else down.
If we’re honest, though, haven’t we all done this at some point? I’m talking about belittling somebody else to make ourselves appear the bigger expert, more deserving of respect and attention. Maybe we haven’t done it in a public forum, but judgements can run wild within the safety of private conversation, or even just in our heads. For some, the relative anonymity of posting online can bring out their most scathing inner critic.
I paused to think about it during the talk, and came to the conclusion that if I were to judge the actress for her harsh words, then I was behaving no differently than she. Who am I to consider myself the bigger expert in kindness? Have I always had perfect thoughts about others? Certainly not.
I’d be lying if I said I’d never before cast an unnecessarily harsh judgement, although I like to think my judging mind has at least softened over the years. My meditation practice has something to do with that, as does having tried my hand at a number of things (like acting), which pushed me out of my comfort zone and left me vulnerable to failure. But I am not perfect. Far from it.
Most recently, my five-year-long journey of writing a book reminded me how powerful the words of others can be. Many generous, knowledgeable people helped me shape my work into something I’m proud to share with the world. They did this through encouragement and constructive criticism, not disparagement.
‘This is a great start,’ they told me along the way, ‘but here are some suggestions to make it even better.’ They also said things like, ‘Go, you!’ ‘I’m excited for you!’ and ‘I’m so proud of what you’re doing.’ None approached my writing with a competitive mindset or made themselves out to be the biggest expert in the room, even when I considered them to be.
They made me feel like they were invested in my success, not my failure, which gave me the confidence to keep working at it, until my final manuscript was a significantly better piece of writing. Like me, it was not perfect, but it was better than it could have been without the kind words of others.
Moving forward, I endeavour to pass on the same kindness to others, to support their growth and to find joy in their success, as others have done for me. If ever an unkind thought pops into my head, I hope to think of the actress with renewed compassion, for clearly we are not dissimilar creatures but imperfect people doing our best to work with our judgemental minds. This may not have been the wisdom she intended to impart, but her talk has inspired me to be better a better human by choosing more kindness—not a bigger expert by casting stronger judgements.
With love, Narissa
Narissa Doumani, author of A Spacious Life: Memoir of a Meditator
live mindfully ~ love openly
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