I got a message from someone I hadn’t heard from in a while, and it annoyed me, because it’s someone I used to have a lot of time for – someone I had a lot of loyalty towards – and they broke the cardinal rule of being alive: Don’t Be A Dick. Really, just don’t.
I’m one of life’s puppies – I jump up at you and wag my tail and if you don’t pat me on the head, I just go and bark at someone else. That’s not the being-a-dick part. The being-a-dick part is if you then suddenly figure out that you want something and then throw me a bone, expecting me to heel and roll over. That’s not the way it works. Sure, there’s an implicit understanding in any creative industry that there’s a slight reciprocal edge to conversations. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours, and again that’s not being a dick. It’s the assumption that you can casually pick up friends and drop them again the minute they’ve exceeded their usefulness, as if they’re somehow too stupid to figure out that you only ever contact them when you’re after something. You don’t have to invite them round for Sunday lunch, but you do have to adhere to professional standards of common courtesy.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in a tourist resort that I have those standards tattooed onto the inside of my skull:
You answer the telephone within three rings, reply to every email within 48 hours and greet everyone with a smile and a firm handshake.
There’s a word for people who don’t do that: unemployed. I didn’t respond to that message, and it has to be the first I haven’t replied to in a very long time. I honestly had no idea what to say. The thing that’s so irritating above all else is that there’s so many opportunities that that person has missed out on because of their rudeness. I almost want to know how long it will take them to make that link between their atrocious attitudes towards other people and their lack of support in their current endeavours. Since I spend most of each day asking people to do things for me, it’s in my best interests to get them on side, so that involves being very courteous and helping them in any way whenever I can – but as I can’t predict who I’ll need help from and when, I can’t cynically make direct equations on who is “useful” to be polite to at any given time (and nor should I, because it’s f***ing rude). It’s better just to be nice to everyone all the time – and people can smell when you’re being fake, so you have to be genuine about it. You have to push all thoughts about expecting anything in return out of your head and just make an effort to like and appreciate all the people around you all of the time, and without conscious effort on your part, you’ll just find your luck improves.
Which brings me to the real point of this rantlet.
There’s a band who have achieved moderate success through being dicks. By “success”, I mean that they earn maybe £20k a year each through using, manipulating, stepping on, shafting and otherwise being total s***s. They sabotage their “rivals” in other bands, they secretly badmouth people, they do every nasty, underhand thing you can think of … and for what? To earn about as much as their average fan. They’ll never be any bigger than they are now, because who will help them? If they run into any trouble, who will step in to save them?
(jump to 1:33)
I remember reading once that Sandra Bullock was the nicest girl in Hollywood. She was earning $12 million per film at the time. One of the earliest interviews I read with Brad Pitt remarked what a pleasant, down-to-earth person he is. That’s not coincidental: you don’t get to be at that level without charming the socks off of everyone you meet. Every member of senior management of any hugely successful organisation I have ever met has been the most polite, personable and immediately likeable being you could hope to encounter – and it’s not something that gets switched off the minute you leave the room, because if it’s just a mask then you never know who’s watching the minute you let it slip. All the really nasty gits hit a ceiling where their networks of support dry up, because the moment it gets out that you’re a bit of a bastard, you’re buggered. (Look what happened to Megan Fox.)
There has to be some tiny, self-aware part of you that recognises that it’s only a band. It’s not worth your soul for twenty grand a year. It’s not worth pissing off everyone around you to play in front of two thousand people. However passionately you feel about something, however much you enjoy what you’re doing and however creatively driven you are, you absolutely must put personal relationships above that – those with your family and friends and wider network of acquaintances. By all means set limits on your time and attention – almost anyone will accept that you can’t spend all day every day exchanging idle chit-chat with fans - but don’t be the kind of dick that only values people when you think they can be useful, because that will alienate even your most ardent supporters and leave you with nothing at all.