Being a dominant force
Tonight I had dinner with some of the musicians from AYO (Australian Youth Orchestra) and the Cat Empire who have been working together this week on a collaborative improvisation and performance project. I worked with the AYO musicians on Sunday, and they will give a concert tomorrow night.
I mentioned to one young cellist what a great contributor he was in a group situation. I had observed him being very generous in his offers, as well as good at responding to the ideas of others. He was dynamic and full of energy and fun – a good ‘engager’ – and he was often a catalyst for getting things moving in his composition groups. He thanked me, but went on to say that he knew that he needed to be careful not to dominate other people in these settings, that there were others who might not be putting forward ideas, because he was so immediately forthcoming.
I think about this situation a lot. Sometimes it seems wrong that those who are the bright, happy, uninhibited ones – who have so much to offer a group situation, especially when working in a new area or outside comfort zones – should need to tone themselves down in order to not overshadow other quieter people. It is as if they must somehow take responsibility for others being shyer or less forthcoming. This certainly can happen in schools (I have very clear memories of teachers telling me that I should offer fewer suggestions in group tasks, so that others could ‘have a turn’ – even though those others never seemed to offer anything anyway! The indignation I felt!). But is it right? At what point should people expect others to keep making space for them, in a creative situation?
Group dynamics are never straightforward, but good collaborations contain input from all sources present, I think. Everyone is changed in some way by the contributions of the others. There is richness in ensuring a breadth of contributions from which everyone benefits, and this is an argument for creating an environment in which all voices can be heard. However, some responsibility must also lie with individuals, to be brave about piping up, making offers, recognising when they are holding themselves back out of habit, or long-held behavior patterns. In an educational setting it is right to make allowance for people to some extent, but what is that extent in reality? Is it right that a bright young thing should be holding back his incredible stream of creative ideas, simply to not make others feel bad?
I don’t think so. I told him to be as bright and brilliant as he wanted to be. The world has far less to gain from his mediocrity than it has from his brilliance. He should see himself as an inspiration and a guide for others, rather than a dominant presence. He can offer an energy that is infectious, that will give confidence to others, and momentum to the group process – sometimes intangible to those taking part, but always invaluable.