As a member of the audience, it is an insult to say to the performer, “You were great tonight,” only to be told, “No, I was terrible. You should have seen me last week.…” Any of us who have been so corrected know that it feels like a slap in the face. Reflection would inform the actor that the correct response is “Thank you very much.”
I do this almost all the time. I’m not saying I hear a lot of compliments, but my errors are always on the forefront of my mind so I respond with something like, “No, I screwed up” or “I couldn’t get the power out.” It’s obvious how bad I am when I think about how often I was hit during sparring. I’m aware it’s not the best response so I’m trying to change. It’s part of the humility-pride paradox that some Chinese and Chinese-Americans like myself experience.
Growing up, it was ingrained in me to be humble about accomplishments (not that I had any! see?) and downplay compliments. It wasn’t even directly instilled in me. It was a part of the culture I grew up in and it seeped into my character. Parents would pretend to be embarrassed when praised for raising a well mannered child who became a doctor, lawyer, financial analyst, or other “respectable” professional and marrying someone of equal or better status. Inside, they were proud, and rightly so. You’d hear about other children’s achievements from your own parents who would pressure you to be equally or more accomplished. (My parents were only like that to a minor degree and out of concern for my well-being. It didn’t really work though.)
It’s related to the martial artist “curse” of aiming for near perfection (perfection doesn’t exist) and knowing you’ll never succeed. It’s not really a curse since the first step to improving is recognizing your flaws. However, it can keep you in a negative mindset to the point where you insult someone who tries to pay a compliment. Even worse, it can lower your confidence.
This is something I’m working on. I can easily switch from having self confidence to fearing I won’t live up to my or someone else’s expectations.
Don’t “confess” when you come offstage. If you have gained an insight, use it. They say “silence builds a fence for wisdom.” To keep one’s own counsel is difficult. “Oh, how terrible I was.…” How difficult to keep those words in—how comforting they are. In saying them one creates an imaginary group interested in one’s progress. But give up the comfort of an imaginary group. This “group” that is judging you is not real; you invented it to make yourself feel less alone.
I need to tell myself: “Don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t do as well as you could have. Learn from it and keep going.”
Excerpts from “True and False” by David Mamet