I must be getting old. I’m still in my forties, but something fundamental has changed in the creative business; something I don’t recognise and don’t much like. I was a punk, when that was a thing, and I was certainly a truculent teenager, but for all of my adult life I’ve believed in common courtesy: saying (and writing) ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ when you’re asking or receiving. These aren’t disposable niceties reserved for fuddy-duddies, squares and maiden aunts, they’re the very stuff of social interaction and mutual respect. And they’re vanishing.
At least once a week, I’m asked for help or advice from someone hoping to start or advance their career as a writer or creative professional. Almost always arriving as emails, I never ignore these messages. Indeed, I take the time to answer the correspondent’s questions as constructively and honestly as possible. Because I remember a time when ambition was all I had, and was lucky enough to find some seasoned creatives prepared to give me a helping hand, I do the same. That’s all any decent person would do, so I don’t expect praise or reward. What I do expect, is a quick note of thanks. It used to be pretty much guaranteed, but now the opposite is true.
Last week, I received a list of unsolicited questions from a person launching a blog. These questions were quite badly written, but I ignored that and wrote a couple of paragraphs under each one before wishing this stranger luck with their project. That was the last I heard of them.
Why should I care? Well, I care because I now feel that questioner took my effort and guidance as something to which they were entitled. The time I took to reply didn’t even warrant the five seconds it would have taken to thank me, which tells me this person didn’t have the self-respect or social grace to acknowledge my support. And that genuinely matters to me. It should matter to everyone.
But this isn’t a complaint about a single incident, it’s a description of a wider malaise. I believe the rudeness in that situation is part of a depressing trend in our industry – a tendency to treat other people very badly. It’s this horribly negative attitude that allows recruitment consultants to disregard applications from bright, capable candidates without so much as an acknowledgement. Or leads to agencies ignoring enquiries from potential employees or clients.
Unless I’m remarkably unlucky, there is a general mood of ignorance afoot – and it grows every day.
Recently, I was absolutely astonished when a manager in the music business put back a Skype conversation twice in a day, and then told me he couldn’t make the rearranged call because he was going for ‘a cold beer’. This behaviour is quite shocking to me; but worse, it actually undermines confidence, making creative and commercial success less likely.
So, if you’ve experienced similar impoliteness, just check you’re part of the solution not the problem. And if you’re writing to me, or anyone else, for advice – for goodness sake take the time to thank those who reply. It really is the least you can do.