Learning the Power of "No"


I wanted to be an actor. I had no reason to think I could succeed in the arts, but I loved the theater. I had no formal training, I couldn’t sing at all, and had never taken a single dance lesson. My stage experience was limited to a couple of very low quality high school productions but that didn’t stop me from enrolling in college as a theater arts major. I had a dream. I wanted to act.

The dream died my first day of college. I do not remember what prompted the moment of reflection but after my first, very boring day at Cal State Fullerton I sat and reflected on the reality of my goals. Given my complete lack of musical talent there was no hope for Broadway. Drama or comedy were a possibility, but I was not leading man material. I was not particularly good looking. I had a very slight build and was not particularly tall (somethings never change!). “Romantic lead” was not going to ever appear on my resume. If I was going to be an actor I would have to do it the hard way. I would have to have another job and scrounge for any role I could find, likely as a bit player or character actor.

While many similarly endowed have gone that route and eventually succeeded I realized there would be another barrier to success, my beliefs and values. As a committed Christian, there were limits to the roles I could accept. There were things I would not say, even in character, and things I could not do because of my faith. There would be times I would be forced to say, “No.”

As I pondered all of these facts in my head I realized I had no choice. The chances of me making it as an actor, making it to the level of being able to one day provide for a family without compromising my values, were nil. My dream had to die and it did. As I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life I dropped out of school to reconsider my life path.

This story from my past came to mind this week as I read more of the tales of abuse and harassment in Hollywood. The lurid accounts of shameful and disrespectful behavior validated the conclusion I reached almost 40 years ago. So many have given up so much in pursuit of acting careers, preyed upon by lecherous men like Harvey Weinstein. It seems it is almost impossible to make it as an actor or actress without compromising one’s values.

As disgusting and offensive as the actions of Harvey Weinstein were I cannot ignore the reality of why they continued for so long. Men like Weinstein do what they do because there are men and women who are desperate enough to allow them to. Morals are tested, challenged and frequently cast aside. One compromise leads to another, and the compromises of one person lead others to feel pressured to similarly give in.

Strings of compromise lead to entitled expectations from powerful people who make or break careers. Actors and models who are willing to take off their clothes and imitate lewd behavior on camera for money or the opportunity at fame should not be surprised when others think they may be willing to do the same in private. When you have established a price, people will try to buy you.

The solution to this problem isn’t only to punish the perverts (although the punishment should be severe). The solution requires values and boundaries. People need to be willing to accept the potential adverse consequences of saying, “No.” They may lose coveted roles or even their careers to the whim and spite of a power-hungry sleaze, but they will keep their dignity.

They may lose a Hollywood career, but they will not lose their chance for happiness. They will have the same opportunities for happiness as the rest of the world, the happiness that comes from being a good spouse, parent, friend or co-worker. They can have joy that surpasses fame, the joy of being a good person who is true to their values. They can live a fulfilling life that is not subject to the whims of another, fulfillment dependent on neither fame nor income level.

I do not know any celebrities but my distant observations are that few of them appear to be truly happy. Most of the people I know have lives of better quality. I know I do. I have been happily married to my best friend for over 35 years. I have close relationships with my adult children. I have no skeletons in my closet and no terrible secrets waiting to be discovered. I also have my values and my dignity.

-          Bart