by Thomas Whitfield, M.A.
Last fall one of my good friends from high school asked if he and his boyfriend could visit me for a week in January. Enthusiastically I said yes and looked forward to the dates, which happened to have just passed. They’ve both been to New York City multiple times, so I asked them what they thought they might want to do and came up with some outings. As it so happens, the second night they were in town my best friend was filming the pilot of her TV show in front of a studio audience. My friend visiting has met her in the past, so I asked if they would like to go and sit in the audience to watch. They both said yes and we made plans to meet at the studio on Friday evening, after I finished working at my office.
When we entered the studio, we were asked to sign standard media releases, which basically states they may include shots of the audience and you sign away any rights you have to ownership of any footage you may appear in. Anything asked of you besides sitting in the audience is entirely voluntary. I’ve signed a ton of these in the past and thought nothing of it. I signed mine, my friend signed his, and then his boyfriend proclaimed that he wasn’t comfortable signing it. I tried to assess the situation for a moment because I think it’s understandable that if you’ve never signed something like that it could seem bigger than I view it to be. What it came down to was that he was not willing to sign it and said he was going to leave. My friend said he would go with him and I thought it would be rude for me to stay since part of the reason I set it up was for them to have fun.
We left the studio and stood outside. I could feel the annoyance rise to frustration, and slowly anger. My friend then asked, “Well, what should we do?” And I said, “I don’t know, that’s what I had planned for us. What do you guys want to do?” There was a movie theater across the street and he said, “Let’s go see what’s playing.” I said fine, knowing that I had no interest in going to see a movie. As we started to walk away from the studio I noticed my thoughts, “this is stupid, and he should have just signed the release. Now, I have to go sit through some stupid movie that I don’t want to see. This isn’t how I planned the night going. And, I wanted to see my friend’s show.” Some of these thoughts are irrational. In actuality he has every right to not sign something he’s uncomfortable with. And, even if he just didn’t want to sign it, it’s still his choice. I don’t “have” to see the movie, I’m deciding to. I was also demanding that the night go exactly as planned. Once I acknowledged that these thoughts were irrational I felt my entire body and mind change, relax. I had a choice to make, I go see my friend’s filming, or I could be the “polite” host and go to the movie, giving up what I wanted. So I asked myself this, “does it make me a bad host if I allow them to go to the movie and I stick to my guns about what I want to do?” Part of me thought, “yes, that’s basically what a bad host is,” and the other part thought, “no, you should do what you want to do- and who decides what a ‘good’ host is and a ‘bad’ host it?” And do totally “good” or totally “bad” hosts exist? Isn’t it possible that I’m a host who is just seen as doing ‘bad’ hosting sometimes? I challenged my belief about needing to be seen as a ‘good’ host at all times, by asking- “so what if you’re a host who is sometimes seen as acting bad? What universal law said you must be seen as ‘good’ at all times in all circumstances?” I looked at my guests and said, “Actually, it’s my best friend’s pilot and I really want to go see it. So, I’m going to go back in and I’ll just text you guys after.” They said, “Yes, absolutely, you should go.” And I did. The filming was amazing, tons of fun, and my frustration and anger mostly disappeared rather quickly. Over the next few days there were a couple more bumps, but I kept reminding myself “there is no universal law saying one must be a perfect host at all times and in all circumstances,” and “there is no universal law that a guest must be polite.”