Be impeccable with your word - Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements
"To really master being impeccable will require that you heighten your awareness not just to the words you say, but also to the emotions you express, your attitude, your actions, and where you express the power of your belief. You will need to develop a discipline of mindfulness to be impeccable in these expressions through out the day." Gary van Warmerdam, http://www.toltecspirit.com/
I have been lazy lately. Lazy in my thoughts and lazy in my words. Lazy in the things I expressed, and in the things I chose not to say. I did not speak up when I should have, and lashed out carelessly when I should have been more thoughtful. The worst part is that kind of thoughtlessness can spread and ripples can pass from person to person creating a feeling of criticism and judgment where none is warranted. When that happens, thoughts about creating solutions are stifled, and criticism gets more and more personal.
It started out of frustration, as it usually does. I wanted to address a disturbing problem I saw but I didn't do it constructively. I complained, as did others, to the people who weren't the problem instead of addressing it at the time to the people actually involved.
During what was an exceptionally beautiful event called YoLaTango here in Austin, I observed behavior that well and truly pissed me off. Here is what I posted on Facebook (which is a different problem to be addressed in a separate post.)
"I did not get kicked or bumped at all while I was *dancing* at the milonga tonight. However, I did get stepped on (three times) and kicked (twice) while I was sitting in my damned seat!! A girl a few chairs away from me almost got kicked in the head(!!!) as she reached under her chair to get something from her purse! WTF??? One guy got a stiletto heel stabbed into the top of his foot while he was sitting down.
"I know teachers teach dancers to do their fancy moves in the corners, but if there are people sitting in the corners keep your effing feet on the floor. Worst of all, the offenders were people who've been dancing well long enough know better. Another thing - if you do something like that, don't laugh and shrug - damned well apologize.
"This was a very, very nice venue, with fantastic music and I had so many beautiful tandas, but the times I did sit and watch the floor, it was so disheartening. There was no reason at all for that. To the leaders who worked so hard to keep their partners safe (including me) - thank you so very much. You guys rock my socks off. To the followers who kept their feet low even when their leaders led them huge moves - thank you for having the presence of mind to look out for others."
Two dancers told me that the cut short their visit to our festival because they could not relax and feel safe on our dance floor. I was heartbroken to hear that. How did things get so bad? Murat Erdemsel, during one of the milongas, even spoke about etiquette on the pista. It seemed to last about an hour. People commented that they were afraid to sit in the chairs along the dance floor because they were getting stepped on or kicked.
Austin, and Austin's tango community has, for many years, enjoyed a reputation for being friendly and welcoming. We cannot be friendly and welcoming if dancers are afraid of getting hurt in our milongas. One visitor who complained to me said it just validates what he's always heard about Austin Tango - "The people are wonderful and friendly, but the floorcraft is crap." Is this what we want people to think about dancing here? (I should note that several of the 'hazardous' dancers were not from Austin, but the overall feeling many dancers got was that the milongas ware a kind of free-for-all even though many dancers were working very hard to keep things calm and sane on the pista.)
People came to me to complain who knew about my blog, and my posts on Facebook, so I let loose in person and online my opinions on the matter. My criticism was not constructive - it was bitter. It was also, as I noted above, not directed at the people actually causing the issue. Normally I am against giving criticism on the dance floor, however when safety is at stake, I think it's warranted.
There are constructive ways to address the behavior without getting personal, without putting people on the defensive, without being disruptive or ugly - but those ways require good timing, tact and forethought. I was lacking in all three. I just bitched rather generally and than sat and stewed about it some more. Neither of those actions helped the situation, helped other dancers, or helped the organizers of what was truly a wonderfully put together event.
So I am reacquainting myself with Don Miguel Ruiz's First Agreement - Be impeccable with your word.
When I speak, particularly when I am criticizing something, am I speaking from a place of truly wanting to help or am I just bitching? Am I addressing the behavior or getting personal and making character judgments? Am I just looking for validation of my opinion? Is my attitude projecting kindness and helpfulness - or close-mindedness?
A Different Solution
What I would have done differently if given the chance?
- Talk to the organizers at the time that it was happening. I didn't because I felt they were busy enough already and I didn't want to bother them. I justified it further by thinking they probably wouldn't want to say anything that would cause hard feelings. But if I had been organizing the event, I would have wanted to be bothered with it.
- Talk to the people in question when I saw the behavior. This is trickier. It's so tempting to get in someone's face and say, "Hey, you shouldn't do that - you could (or just) hurt someone!" If you approach someone in a very obvious and accusatory manner, it immediately puts then in a position of defending themselves. I truly don't believe that any dancer wants to be a danger to other dancers - bumps and missteps happen in crowded milongas. The best way I have seen it done is a dancer waits until the person in question is off of the dance floor and then says (quietly) that the floor is a little rough and would they mind helping out by being a little more cautious. Basically, they tasked that dancer with the safety of the people around them. It's human nature to want to be invited to fix things - not be accused of breaking things.
- Look at the floor and see if there are changes that could help the dance flow. If something seems helpful, suggest it to the organizers. In the case of one of the milongas, having a more marked pista would have helped even if all that meant was creating a more regular dance space with chairs and tables.
- I would have left it off of Facebook and kept it in person. Negativity breeds negativity and that's what happened with my post.
Maybe those things would have helped - maybe not. There is a significant chance that I could have screwed it up worse - who knows? I know that I did do helped no one.
Dear readers, I would appreciate your feedback in this. What would you have done? What has worked in your community?