A lot of my column ideas come from events and moments that are happening around me, or the things that people say. January had its own message, and after hearing it repeated last night, I realized there was value to the conversation.
I've thought a lot about the play I directed in the week since the show ended. For those who watched it, the subject matter was definitely not about baseball. Part of getting into the mindset of understanding why the lead character ended up where she did: Depressed, self-destructive, and in a mental health hospital, required the cast and I to analyze what led her life to that point.
The lead character was an accomplished artist, who got rave reviews in the coverage and critical analysis of her work. Yet, in one article, a reviewer stated that the character's paintings had “a preponderance of reds” in them, but the reviewer immediately shifted the tone back to what made the work so appealing.
Ultimately, it was that one comment that set the events of the entire play in motion.
Interestingly enough, in my catching up of Cheer, Gabi Butler made a similar comment during one of her interviews, saying how she can get a thousand good comments, but it's that one negative comment, usually from someone she doesn't know, that affects her the most.
I understand what that's like. I've experienced it on social media. I've seen it in critiques of my own projects.
It feels like all the air has been sucked out of the room. You start questioning your work. You start questioning yourself. All of those “I love what you do” comments suddenly feel muted over a well-placed “Your contribution doesn't have value,” or “Your point is meaningless.”
No, it doesn't help when someone immediately compliments you after that, because you start questioning that feedback, no matter how well-intentioned or genuine. “But why do you like this?” “Are you just being nice?” “Thanks, but someone else said....”
At the same time, I've been the “preponderance of reds” guy: Well-meaning, but critically honest. You can't just blindly like everything, either. There has been constructive feedback. There has to be truth in what you say, because if you claim “Everything's perfect” when you don't really mean it and it's not really true, that's its own level of harm.
Social media has changed how we talk to each other, because not all feedback we get provides something to use. What we share online allows random strangers to view the content we put on display. Some people may be honestly trying to help. Some individuals are jealous of other's success, wishing that level of attention for themselves. Others simply want to watch the world burn because they find it funny to be horrible “without consequence,” but forgetting (or not caring) that someone, somewhere will read those words on another screen.
I don't think I'm perfect. I can be clumsy, say awkward things, or in some cases, I know some things I've said have upset people at times. But my difference is, I've tried to learn how and where my feedback can be useful. I'm not going to rip on someone who can do something better than me, because chances are I do a few things that they can't. Sometimes, people need their moment, because it probably took years of work and failure to get to that point. Social media has the unfortunate effect of making things look easier than they really are.
The last few weeks have been a reminder of why good communication and proper feedback matters, and how our speaking voices and online voices need to match up to who we are. It's taken time, and I still keep a mental check on myself just in case, but I make sure that what I type in a comment box is the same thing I'd say to someone's face in public.