“May I give you some advice?” the hairy-chested man asked as he popped his goggles up onto his swim cap. “Shorter kicks. Use a kickboard to learn. It’s not as easy as it looks.” And just like that, he dropped his goggles back down and swam 900 more laps, as I tried to catch my breath from the two-and-a-half I’d just completed. All right, fine. It was more like two-and-a-quarter.
I never was much of a swimmer growing up. My family didn’t have a pool, live near a lake or anything like that. My summers were spent playing in the woods and on baseball diamonds. But my apartment complex has a pool, so I thought I’d give lap-swimming a shot.
I was caught off guard by this man’s sudden critique. I didn’t expect my freestyle form to become a topic of discussion at the neighborhood pool. Who is this guy? Use a kickboard? Thanks, Ryan Lochte. “Piss off,” was my initial thought. I don’t care about what you have to say, or your stupid swim cap.
We don’t like when people offer criticism. We take it personally.
“Excuse me? Are you saying I’m not perfect?”
I think we all tend to forget (or don’t care to admit) that our species, while remarkable in many ways, is a work-in-progress. Our prefrontal lobes are too small and our adrenal glands are too big. We fall victim to our own egos. Too often, it seems our first instinct is to regard those who offer critiques as our enemies.
But was this man trying to attack me personally or make me feel inferior? No, he was offering help. He saw a flaw in my approach and gave what he deemed to be the solution.
I wouldn’t have known to correct the way to kick if no one had told me. That guy did me a favor. I mean, I’m not saying that I’m going to be using a kickboard anytime soon, but I shouldn’t get annoyed at him. I should thank him for the suggestion.
All of the classes I’ve taken in screenwriting involve some type of workshop process where your peers give notes. I can’t possibly stress how valuable these roundtables are. 12 people all giving rapid-fire feedback on something you’ve written. It’s a golden opportunity for improvement.
But you can tell right away who gets it and who doesn’t. Some people just cannot take any form of constructive feedback. They cover their ears and shout, “la, la, la, la,” as people give notes. Or they interrupt, and try to explain why their story is perfect and doesn’t need tweaks. It drives me insane. They’re giving you advice. For YOUR script! They’re HELPING you. Listen!
Why are we so afraid to hear criticism? Perhaps it goes back to that disproportioned evolution of our lobes and hormone dispensaries. We’d rather keep our misguided ego intact than better ourselves. I say it’s an ugly deficiency that holds us back.
I’ve met a ton of wannabe actors, writers and directors since moving to LA, and I’ve noticed a common thread amongst the ones who seem perpetually down on their luck. They’re perfect and they’re not changing a single thing about anything they do. Shame on everyone else for even suggesting it. The whole world is blind. And STUPID.
Now, what if I told you that the world was actually pretty smart and offering their help?
Internet trolls aside, people generally give feedback for a reason. To help others improve. We could be so lucky to have someone give us specifics to work on, but instead we say, “They’re so MEAN. How could they?”
I don’t care if you’re a bartender, a ballet instructor or even U.S. President Barack Obama. Everyone should be open to a little constructive feedback — about anything. That’s how things move forward. Why do you think Chipotle tastes so damn good?
Sure, not all critiques were created equal. A lot of it is silly — “Hey, that fella’s face looks dumb!” But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen. We can’t decide what’s brilliant advice and what’s useless drivel if we don’t listen. Extra information about how others see things is always beneficial — it’s knowledge — whether we use it or not. Not listening to feedback is a crime.
If you have a big ‘ole wad of spinach in your teeth, but you cover your ears every time someone tries to tell you, the spinach is still going to be there. So if someone says, “Hey you’ve got a bunch of spinach in your teeth,” don’t say “SCREW YOU.” Say “Thank you, kindly.” It’s up to you whether or not you’d like to remove it.
Frank Marasco is a first-year graduate student in Los Angeles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.