When Not To Listen
Most of us are brought up to value other people’s opinions. We are taught that “everyone is entitled to their opinion” and to “respect the opinions of others.” I certainly believe this worldview can help build a kind, respectful and tolerant society. Plus, we have to learn and work amongst other people and being if […]
Most of us are brought up to value other people’s opinions. We are taught that “everyone is entitled to their opinion” and to “respect the opinions of others.” I certainly believe this worldview can help build a kind, respectful and tolerant society.
Plus, we have to learn and work amongst other people and being if we can’t navigate the opinions of others, it will create all sorts of unnecessary conflict. I love Robert Frost’s take on this,
“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence. “
But There Are Exceptions
But, respect, education and kindness not withstanding, I also believe there is a huge and self-destructive danger in treating everyone’s opinions as equal. They are not.
When it comes to art, or even everyday creative pursuits, not everyone who voices an opinion really knows what they are talking about. And even if they do, they might not have a desire to see you succeed in your work.
We can cripple ourselves by placing too much weight, or indeed, any weight at all, on some opinions.
I still remember years ago, listening to someone’s opinion about my guitar playing. This person (a hobbiest guitar player) was picking on the way the little finger, on my left hand, moved when it was not playing a note. Apparently, because it occasionally moved in a random fashion, or pointed up in the air, it was a problem worth mocking.
I obsessed about this for years.
Of course, this was silly of me. You can see loads of excellent guitarists who have the same trait. Check out this video of Steve Vai, where he does exactly the same thing my critic ridiculed.
Still, I wasted hours of practice time over many years trying, pointlessly to correct a fault which was, of course, no fault at all. And, it got in the way of my performances, as I became self-conscious about “the finger.”
Inspiration From Negativity
Every creative I’ve met has stories like these (and far worse). It’s something designer Jonathan Adler discusses in a wonderfully revealing and frank talk. Adler explains how a profoundly negative college experience became a kind of creative fuel for Adler as he learnt to think for himself as a designer.
Ultimately, You’ll Be Judged
As a creative you’ll be judged by what you create. The effort you put into responding to every random opinion you hear won’t count for anything. I can’t defend a guitar solo that sounded forced or jerky by saying, “I was trying to keep my little finger down because someone mocked me, 20 years ago, saying it looked odd.”
“Listen, smile, agree, and then do whatever the fuck you were gonna do anyway.”
Robert Downey Jr.
OK, Robert Downy Jr’s words might seem a be a bit extreme. But, if the world is going to judge our work, then we might as well make stuff we believe it, rather than thing that apologise for everyone else’s conflicting opinions about what they think we should do and how they think we should do it.
The Right Mind
You can only inhabit one mind. So, your best shot at creating something truly amazing is to become comfortable with your own approach, rather than apologising for what is going on in other people’s minds.
Do your work, share it with the world, listen, but pay the most heed to the people who really know the field and have shown a desire in seeing you flourish.
Then keep doing the same, over and over again.