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Sunday, March 15, 2015

... And Less Than Kind

Calm? No one said anything about having to keep calm...

One of the first things I talk to my acting classes about is the idea that we, as actors, need to be kind. That goes for any discipline, really. Writing, directing, painting, sculpting. Heck, it goes for accounting and the hard sciences, too. This shouldn't be a revolutionary idea, and yet I find that it is, at least in its everyday practice.

Please allow me to elaborate. One of the experiences I had as a developing actor was that the majority of my teachers fell into two major categories. There were the nice teachers, and then there were brutally honest ones.

See? Nice and mean. And both of them kinda creepy.

The nice teachers were encouraging and touchy-feely. They created a lovely feel in their classrooms, one that would allow for experimentation and exploration without fear of harsh criticism. And all of that was great.

The problem was, they were nice. And nice isn't particularly honest. The warm and fuzzy feeling under their tutelage came at the expense of direct and clear critique--something that's necessary to improve our craft. When we perform poorly and the only response is, "Fantastic! Wonderful!", it's easy to lose faith in the process. And the instructor.

Then there are the brutally honest teachers. From their instruction, we get crystal clear details on how we can improve. But their honesty comes with a harshness that shuts down the avenues of discovery.

We don't want to open up to someone who is likely to look at what we've uncovered and say, "Well, that's just not good enough." Ouch. That's my soul you're talking about, you jerk!"

You complete me, Jason Alexander.

For those teachers who recognize the dilemma, they typically waver back and forth between the two extremes, always looking for that perfect middle ground. I haven't seen one once who's actually found it. I certainly didn't for a very long while. I usually (but not always) erred on the side of nice, but I didn't find that it worked all that well. Particularly with the so-called problem student.

The solution I've found is to get off that line entirely. There aren't just two choices with gradations in between. We live in three dimensional space, last time I checked. Meaning that there are an infinite number of possibilities for us other than just those two poles of niceness and brutality.

The one I'd like to explore with you is that of kindness.

Now you may now be saying to yourself, "But wait. Kind and nice are the same thing." But those two words are miles apart in my mind. Because kind is loving and gentle. Kind is honest. Kind is often uncomfortable, but never harsh. Kind is direct. Kind is... well, kind.

There's a genuine quality to kindness that doesn't exist in nice. And there's a softness in kind that doesn't exist in brutal honesty. Kind is a separate third space that gives us the best of both worlds, and opens up new possibilities to our view.

Here's an example. My wife asks me if a certain outfit makes her look fat.

Yes, Admiral Ackbar.  It certainly is.

The nice answer is, "No, honey, you look fantastic." The brutally honest answer is, "Yeah, it makes you look fat." Neither one of those answers really fulfills the question.

Because when she's asking me that question, she's really asking two. The first is the obvious one. Is this outfit okay for me to wear in public? The second is a bit more hidden. Do you love me?

The nice answer takes care of the second part, but doesn't address the fact that the outfit is not, in fact, flattering on her. The brutally honest one takes care of that, but doesn't let her know how much I care.

The kind answer looks more like this: Here's a different outfit that I think makes you look hot. Loving and honest as well. The third space.

No, it doesn't make you look fat. 
I think you may be asking the wrong question.

That's the way I see it. When I'm making a choice, and it seems like my choices have been narrowed down to only two and both seems bad... it might be time to make a change. Time to soften and find that third, kind, loving space.

And this isn't just for teaching. This applies to the way we talk to each other as artists. It has to do with the way we talk to ourselves. It refers to the way we handle industry contacts like casting directors, agents, managers, directors and producers. When we treat them as real people, with kindness, we find that the brutal, faceless "industry" doesn't really exist.

The whole idea of kindness expands well beyond just interaction with individuals. The way we treat animals. The way we view politics. The way we handle the planet and its resources.

It's a beautiful world out there when we choose to treat it that way.

That is one wicked awesome glassy, dude. Wanna play for it?

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