A small furor erupted today in the wake of This American Life’s announcement that they are retracting a story they recently aired by Mike Daisy. I encourage you to read (and listen to) the various accounts and analyses of the situation. As simply as possible: Mr. Daisy adapted a portion of his theatrical monologue, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs“, for Public Radio International’s This American Life. TAL, a journalistic enterprise, aired the adaptation in January and later discovered that portions of the piece don’t stand up factually to journalistic standards. Thus the retraction. One thing rings clear in both Ira Glass (TAL’s public face and producer) and Mr. Daisy’s accounts: theater isn’t journalism. They both agree that treating theater as if it were something it isn’t proved to be the eventual breaking point in this collaboration.
There’s an important lesson here for organizations and the people who make them run: If we aren’t crystal clear on what our function is, we’re not going to serve that function cleanly. If we aren’t equally clear what rules we’re playing by, we’re very likely to break them. And if we’re not talking to each other honestly about our purpose, our function, and the rules we’re playing by to get there, we’re going to have a mess on our hands.
What’s your purpose? How are you choosing to function in order to meet that purpose? What rules are you playing by? And when was the last time you talked to your board, staff, and stakeholders about all of those things?
I have given myself permission to stop attempting to like David Mamet’s plays.
The moment of release from my career-long attempt to understand why people thought he was so fantastic came after a local production of Boston Marriage. I had complained for years that in addition to most of his characters being jerks, he didn’t write women at all. And when he did, he did so poorly. Nothing about that play changed my mind about his ability to write women characters in a way that resonated as true. So I just stopped going to see his plays. It was actually quite a relief.
Mr. Mamet may or may not be a misogynist. His writing suggests to me that he doesn’t much like women, but I’ve never met the man. I ought not to judge.
I do not, however, deny that he is a skilled writer with valuable insights about theater and structuring a story. Which is why, though I’ve sworn off his plays, I picked up our copy of True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor yesterday and started flipping through it. One of the first pages I landed on contained this bit of wisdom:
Do not internalize the industrial model. You are not one of the myriad of interchangeable pieces, but a unique human being, and if you’ve got something to say, say it, and think well of yourself while you’re learning to say it better.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I’m meant to be of service in this world. Whether I’d do better inside an organization, contributing to their mission, instead of stumbling along on my own. I still don’t know the answer. But Mr. Mamet’s advice will sit with me as I continue to listen for what the universe has in store for me.
How does this quote resonate for you? What are you learning to say?
I'm interested in what keeps us engaged in our work, the world, and each other.