Michael (Jeff Goldblum): Don’t knock rationalization. Where would we be without it? I don’t know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They’re more important than sex.
Sam (Tom Berenger): Ah, come on. Nothing’s more important than sex.
Michael: Oh yeah? Ever gone a week without a rationalization?
Many of us struggle to accept feedback, and in saying that, I put the emphasis on the word “accept”.
It is easy to receive feedback, but to accept feedback takes a certain degree of confidence that most of us struggle to achieve, and the earlier we are in the development of our Art, the worse our ability. It is a cruel irony that this struggle is at its zenith when we most need the feedback.
It seems that the minute someone offers feedback, even if we’ve requested it, our initial response is to explain why the work is the way it is or why the feedback provider is wrong. As Jeff Goldblum’s character in The Big Chill put so eloquently, we rationalize.
Now, before you try to explain why you rationalize or try to convince me that you don’t—you know you were going to—let me tell you that it is a natural response that was bred into us from our earliest days.
As a child, if you came home late or missed an appointment, you were likely met with an angry parent asking where you were. Unfortunately, for the most part, parents don’t actually hear the answer, because with the rarest of exceptions, your answer is unlikely to ameliorate the punishment.
And any attempt on your part to simply accept responsibility with “I am sorry, Mummy. That was disrespectful of me and I shall try to be more thoughtful in the future.” (all 5-year-olds talk like that, right?), was met with continued pressure to explain yourself.
Fast-forward 20, 30, 40, 50 years. A classmate, instructor or colleague has just read your manuscript and has trouble with one or two things. The instinctive reaction—thanks Mom and Dad—is to respond “Uh-huh. Well, you see…”
We immediately want to explain why we made such an astounding choice. We feel we need to prove we’re not stupid or crazy, and in some cases, to prove that our readers are. And this instinct is even worse when we either can’t remember why we made that specific choice—the “I dunno” scenario—or we thought it was a bad choice but felt we had no better ideas—the “I’m a talentless hack” scenario.
If we can just suck all of the oxygen out of the room, the reader will suffocate and no one need know of our disgrace.
STOP! BREATHE! RELAX!
Shut up and listen. Don’t respond other than to indicate that you’re following what the person is telling you.
You’re not being attacked. They don’t hate you. They’re not trying to convince the world that you’re a terrible human being.
Fight the urge to explain yourself and instead think about what you are being told. You may not understand right away, so feel free to ask for clarifications (not offer rebuttals). Take the input away and mull on it.
This is an opportunity to learn something about your work, your abilities and yourself. Take advantage of that.
You likely asked for the feedback, either implicitly or explicitly, and your reader has something to tell you. They may be right. They may be wrong. Annoyingly, it is likely to be somewhere in between. Regardless, they have had a reaction to your work, and you must respect that.
You do not, however, have to act on their feedback. If, after sober reflection, you feel that the feedback is not for your work, then move on, confident that you have heard and considered what they said.
See? There is still air; you’re not choking. The skies have not darkened. Wagner does not play. You need not walk into the light.
It is tempting rationalize, to try to explain away our feared shortcomings. It has been programmed into us.
Rationalization is a natural reaction, but it isn’t necessary.
(Image used without permission due to alien infestation.)