When I was putting together the previous post, and looking back at my six weeks as an intern at Star Trek: The Next Generation, I was reminded of something I’d forgotten: that during my first meeting with him, TNG‘s executive producer Michael Piller told me I was to consider the writers’ offices a safe environment, a place where I could freely express thoughts, ideas, and opinions without fear of their being rejected out of hand.
I should not, he said, fear to speak up.
Easier said than done, particularly if most of your previous experience has taught you to keep your mouth shut, for fear of offending someone, annoying someone, or (worst of all, perhaps) making a fool of yourself — because of all the kinds of pain there are in this world, few of them are worse than humiliation. Most of the time, it’s easier to keep quiet. It’s safer to keep quiet, even if that silence means you’ll never learn anything, that you’re denying yourself the chance to grow.
Lately, I’ve seen some comments on the message boards to the effect of, “Freaking NEWBS. Why do they keep asking the same questions? Don’t they know there’s a whole thread for that? Why do they keep bothering us?”
Because, I think, it’s not information they’re looking for.
Venturing into a new place of any kind is a terrifying prospect, unless you’re completely foolhardy, or stupid, or a nice black-and-white-cookie blend of the two. There be dragons in new places, you know? You don’t know the rules. You don’t know where the trap doors are.
And you’re afraid of making a fool of yourself.
Okay, people have walked that particular path before. They’ve asked questions and have secured answers. But they’re not you. Those people aren’t sitting inside your skin, wondering if you have the talent or the nerve or the luck to win at this particular new thing. They aren’t listening to the little voice in your head that won’t stop saying, “Maybe it would be better if you didn’t try.”
Each of us was a newbie once, at every single thing we’ve tried.
And I’m willing to bet, on each of those occasions, it wasn’t information we wanted so much as we wanted a helping hand. A moment of individual attention. An acknowledgment that says “I see you, and I get that you’re scared.” A big brother, of sorts: someone who’s climbed a few steps higher on the hill, reaches back a hand and says, “Come on. I’ve got you.”
Michael Piller extended that hand over and over again. It was at his insistence that Star Trek, alone among network TV shows, accepted, read, and considered scripts from anyone willing to fill out a simple two-page release form. People argued; he held fast. He’d been a young writer once — a newbie — and he remembered what that was like. Rather than leave others to fend for themselves, he offered help. A way in. And once you were in, he listened.
He knew, I think, that kindness endures.
Being an ardent Trekker, I took advantage of my situation a bit too often, and crept onto the TNG set during my lunch hour. I tried my best to stay unnoticed, but I caught the impatient eye of the wrong person. Later on, Michael quietly stopped me in the hallway and murmured that I really shouldn’t be going over there quite so often. It was gentle guidance — not a rebuke, not a criticism. Just a soft, Yeah, not the best thing to do. Okay?
He could have gotten the same result by dressing me down (I never ventured over to the set again), but he chose not to do that. He chose to be kind. He chose to address things with a smile and a quiet tone of voice.
And I remember.
So I give you this as food for thought, as well as reminding myself of what it felt like to be treated kindly, by someone who extended a helping hand. We were all newbies once, and each time we blaze a new path for ourselves, we become newbies again. Not looking for information so much as a big brother (or sister). Someone a couple steps further along the path who’s willing to reach back a hand and say, “I’ve got you.”
Let’s make the world a safe environment for the newbs. And in doing so, for ourselves.