My favourite moment in Shakespeare In Love is when the players are rehearsing Romeo and Juliet, and one of them says a line in a silly, melodramatic voice. Ben Affleck’s character Ned stops acting, turns to his colleague and asks “Are you going to do it like that?” in a voice dripping with disbelief and disdain. Thinking about that moment always makes me laugh, except when it occurs to me just before I’m about to do something stupid. At that point it makes me laugh, but also rethink my actions.
It would be wonderful to go through life doing everything graciously and well, but unfortunately we are humans and therefore unlikely to be able to maintain that sort of thing indefinitely. The best we can aim for is being gracious and grown-up when it matters most, and even though I’m not sure how many of these I manage to do myself, here are a few key moments when I think Ben Affleck’s disdain might come in handy to prevent disaster.
- Breaking up with someone: hard to do, but important to get right. Breaking up with someone is about being respectful and considerate, not patronising or vindictive.
- Being broken up with: equally difficult, and still about respect. In this case, self-respect. Your job as the broken-up-with party in a relationship is to occupy yourself with being a brilliant human being, not reducing yourself to a rejected mess.
- Pursuing your passion: go for what you want in life, but do it well. Work hard, don’t be bitter about other people’s success, and accept that you probably won’t be an overnight success story.
- Losing: don’t be grumpy.
- Winning: don’t be smug.
- Talking about your parents: in most cases, our parents did the best job they knew how to do. Even if they didn’t quite succeed, there’s no point dwelling on it. You’re a grown-up now, and you can make yourself happy.
- Watching television: don’t talk over the dialogue, don’t commandeer the remote and for heaven’s sake don’t force anyone to watch a reality television show.
Like I said, I’m not sure how many of these I actually manage to do myself. The other thing about being gracious is that it’s a habit we have to learn over time, and hopefully knowing where to start – with life’s key moments – will help us to get there. In the meantime, I’m going to put the kettle on. Does anyone want a tea or coffee?