"Let me be a lesson to you of what NOT to do."
When you're a celebrity on par with Jonah Hill, that's probably not the ideal phrase to be uttering to your fans. In this case, though, Jonah's sincere apology on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon after being caught on camera making a grossly inappropriate comment has done a lot to mend fences.
[I'll also go on the record as being ignorant, because I didn't realize the comment he made was now considered "a homophobic slur". I grew up hearing that phrase from men and women alike in my neighborhood. Not that it was a pleasant thing to hear, I was just a little surprised that it was a nuanced term.]
What got Jonah so upset?
From the paparazzi video, it's hard to know exactly what was said, but Jonah indicated he and his family were being verbally attacked on a personal level by the photographer and "was genuinely hurt by this... and in response wanted to hurt him back".
To borrow a line from The Dixie Chicks: "There's your trouble!"
Eleanor Roosevelt gives us the powerful reminder that no one can make us feel inferior without our consent. The trouble comes when our subconscious programming has us giving our power over because something triggered an old wound.
Jonah Hill's been an outspoken supporter of gay rights, and has very publicly dealt with body image issues for years.
By Jonah's own admission, "How you mean things doesn't matter. Words have weight and meaning."
Why didn't he just turn the other cheek?
We are human creatures, and we all make mistakes. Celebrities and high-powered executives aren't exempt. The size of your paycheck only amplifies the possibility of being under the microscope. And while it's sexy to say "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen", the reality of that happening is slim.
Jonah fully expressed his remorse in what I believe to be an honest and authentic way. He spoke directly to those that might be affected, and then gave us all a teachable moment when he said "If someone says something that hurts you or angers you, use me as an example of what not to do, and don't respond with hatred or anger, because you're just adding more ugliness to the world."
When I get upset enough to be angry, it's usually when there's some perceived grain of truth wrapped up in what's being used to hurt me.
When I was in 6th grade, I was taller than most of the kids in my class. One kid liked to call me "Big Momma", which pissed me off regularly, and he knew it.
I didn't like the idea of standing out by being bigger than the other kids. I railed against it, and tried to stand out in other ways. Eventually, most of the boys (and one or two of the girls) finally passed me and I wasn't the tallest anymore. But the whole time I was "Big Momma," I was self conscious and angry about it. It hurt me. I felt inferior because of my size.
In many ways, that inferiority complex is part of what led me on my quest to lose 100 pounds this year.
I was afraid I was fat (even though, for my age and build, I was only overweight by a few pounds). I didn't want to embrace that truth, so I fought it - and any kid that dared to call me out on it. Fortunately, very few kids did, because I was bigger than most of them. 🙂
It's not the truth that bothers us. It's what we're afraid is true.
Maybe I'm projecting my own experiences on the rest of the world here, but in my work with clients over the past few years, the biggest obstacles come from resisting our truth in favor of who we're afraid we are.
When I look at pictures of me as an adolescent, I wasn't really fat as a kid, but I was afraid I was. That fear packed another 100 pounds on my body over the subsequent 20+ years. Because I was afraid that people might find out I was fat, I kept trying to deny it: shaving pounds off my weight on audition applications, learning the photographic tricks to make me look thinner. I did a whole monologue about this during our May show. But everyone around me could see me packing on the pounds. I didn't want to own the truth: that I was afraid I was becoming fat - just like my mom - and she was the last person in the world I wanted to be more like.
"I wanted so desperately to stand out... just not like this."
Maybe Jonah was afraid that somewhere in something that paparazzo said, there was some truth he didn't want to deal with. Sure, the guy was irritating, but it takes hurtful words for most people to get angry enough to lash out like Jonah did. Even Peggy Drexler believes that the paparazzi have to share in the blame for triggering Jonah's behavior. Ultimately, though, we have to choose how to behave, and it's much easier to ignore what we know isn't true.
"The sky is green and the grass is blue..."
My kid can irritate the bajeebers out of me all day long saying "the grass is blue", but I know the truth, and I stand in it firmly. I offer up my "he's so cute at this age" commentary, and let him live in his imaginary world. I'm not angry. Irritated, perhaps, but not angry. If a stranger came up to me and said "the grass is blue and the sky is green", I might try a little harder to persuade him that he's got it backwards, but if he held to his belief, I'd treat him with the same commentary as my 8 year old.
I'm not bothered to the point of lashing out, because he's not challenging my core beliefs. He's not challenging something I'm afraid could be true.
But anyone hit one of my hot buttons - one of those things I'm afraid might be true, that I don't want to face - well, that's when the claws come out.
It's why moral arguments, political viewpoints, and conspiracy theories abound. They prey on our fear that there's a chance they might be true.
So how can we love our haters like the grass is blue? Here's what I did.
I stopped pretending I wasn't fat.
By the time I got married and had 2 kids, I was clearly overweight. No amount of pretending could hide it, but I kept pretending anyway: buying clothes with the promise that I'd drop the weigh so I could fit into them, still more shaving pounds off my audition forms (I can't believe now that anyone thought I was telling the truth!). It's actually kind of pathetic looking back, but desperation makes you do things you might not otherwise.
Then, my youngest started growing up.
My adorable 8 year old has a habit of using me as a reference point when comparing large and small.
"That truck's big - like you, momma."
"That cookie is small, like me. But that cake is big like you, mommy!"
Having kids really helps you get over a lot of truth denying, because they'll keep ya humble and honest. I'm lucky to not have as many hot buttons as I once did. In fact, when I talk about my weight, I can see some of my friends get VERY uncomfortable on my behalf and start defending me:
"You're not fat. I've seen some pretty big people in my life, you're not that big!"
"You're not fat. My boss/spouse/best friend is, but you're not."
"Stop saying that. You're not fat."
Okay, I understand that saying "I'm fat" can be construed as a means of getting attention or putting myself down, but in most instances, I'm actually just stating the obvious. The technical term is "obese", but "fat" just sounds more pleasant to me.
I believe that because I embraced my weight issue, it doesn't have the emotional hold on me that it does my friends. Maybe they're afraid that if I start saying "I'm fat" that I'll resign myself to being fat forever.
That's not on my agenda. I'm fat right now, and I'm doing more than I ever have to bring myself back to full health.
That's my truth, and I stand firm in it. Even when my 8 year old compares me to a Mack truck.
You can't deal with an issue until you see the truth of it.
That's the first step in loving your haters.
Be the last man standing after the tomatoes are thrown.
Jonah recognized that, while he didn't mean what he said in the way it was taken, it was still taken that way.
You have to realize there will always be people that misinterpret your intentions, actions, and words. They'll malign you, call you a series of derogatory terms, throw tomatoes at you.
In fact, being a celebrity (even if you're just a celebrity in your own family) is a lot like being thrown into a ring where everyone else is throwing tomatoes at you. It doesn't matter where you stand, you're pretty much guaranteed to get hit with at least a few tomatoes as long as you're in the ring.
When it comes to owning your dreams, the goal, then isn't to not get hit with a tomato. The goal is to still be standing when all the tomatoes are thrown.
Jonah admitted his fault and is actively working to repair the damage to the best of his abilities.
You're not here to serve the haters.
You'll get your share of haters - sometimes in your own family. My 8 year old tells me regularly that to him, my singing is "100 thumbs down - SERIOUSLY!"
He keeps me humble, that's for sure. But it also doesn't bother me like it does some of my friends. They think it's rude and that he should apologize, but it doesn't bother me because he's sharing his truth, and I'm standing firm in mine. I know I have a strong voice - and I know it's not for everyone. I can stay in tune, carry a melody, and keep the beat. I've been professionally trained, and the file clerk in my head tells me there's a lot of evidence that I am a good singer.
I'm not afraid that I'm a bad singer, so I don't fight him on it. The sky is blue, the grass is green, and I can sing. Period. Anything else is just cute entertainment.
And I know he's not my audience. I don't sing music that's geared to 8 year old ears. I sing pop-infused jazz and blues. That's a decidedly more mature music market, and I'm okay with that. Now if Harry Connick, Jr. told me I couldn't sing, then I might get a little nervous.
Which brings up another good point: don't give your power over to the ignorant. My 8 year old hasn't been on the planet long enough to have a developed sense of musicality. He's still pretty ignorant -as are a lot of people I know that have no musical background. To take his word about my music would be like asking a newborn if Einstein was smart!
So often we put our power in the hands of people we care about instead of listening to knowledgeable and trusted advisers, trusting our gut, and doing what we think is best (myself included).
Very often, we listen to trusted advisers who aren't knowledgeable, or knowledgeable people we don't trust. And even when we find someone that we trust, who knows their stuff, we still need to trust our instincts. I had a session with a very knowledgeable woman in the publishing industry whom I trust. She advised me against writing a business parable because it's a very difficult genre to write in. I thanked her for her time and wrote The Secret Watch anyway. The feeling I get every time I read the positive reviews on Amazon tells me I did the right thing by trusting my gut.
Serve your fans. Serve the people that love you and can't get enough of what you have to offer. Forget the haters. They're not your target market anyway.
(Photo credit: Sue Lukenbaugh - http://www.flickr.com/photos/museled/12317212333/ Creative Commons SA 2)