One of the first things that came up in my conversation with Danny Yung at the end of 2013 was the idea of self consciousness.

“You are too self-conscious,” he observed as I presented what I wanted to do with the Director’s Lab final production. It was true, I had gotten the idea of responsibility, critical observation, and impact mixed up with the ego. I wasn’t feeding self-awareness, I was feeding self-consciousness. And worse, I was feeding it with fear and worry.

Since that reminder, I’ve returned to a Singapore greeted by a number of our institutions influx. Media interests me the most, so when the new regulatory act for blogs and Internet news portals forced the shut down of The Breakfast Network; when the riots in Little India happened; when a theatre company’s simple behind the scenes picture was taken of context and used as Internet fodder; when an online flint criticizing our nation’s broadcast celebration milestone blazed the tinder of ethnic frustration; when I heard of the difficulties facing creatives when fighting to get an original vision for a show on TV intact without it being chipped away by fearful executives; the idea of self-consciousness came back to me.

Much has been written about self-censorship, which, I think, is framed in a policy level. The trickle down effect written about here by Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh is what interests me. He writes,

We have a systemic problem. Self-censorship is an insidious, vicious cycle that feeds upon itself. There is no Grand Government Censor who pre-approves every article before it is published. Self-censorship evolves like a military order, where a General’s call for a 10am fall-in gets amplified through the chain of command, ultimately forcing lowly corporals to get ready at 9am. Similarly, self-censorship exerts its ruinous force on the system by forcing each editor/journalist below to draw an even safer line.

Every Singaporean is just a player in this paralysing game.

Self-censorship in the creative process manifests itself in self-consciousness. What if I let that joke go and someone complains? What if my boss disagrees? What if the critics hate it and my credibility bombs? What if someone writes into complain?

It’s our responses to these small thoughts that grips us with the burden of restraint.

Fear and worry has no place in creativity, although it is impossible to ignore when faced with criticism. So how do we cope? Some of us use sure willpower to ignore it. I have given up reading published criticism of my performance because I know that while it shouldn’t, I am affected. I do read them after the run, and even when I do, I just want to check if it’s positive or negative PR. Simply, I prefer to engage in a dialogue, even if its good feedback, as there is more depth available for discussion.

Other responses to criticism include fighting and feeling. Does this sound familar? Fighting manifests itself in ways like online spars, complaining to MP, defending positions by issuing statements. Fleeing manifests itself as running away from the practice, avoiding conflict in the future. In PR, it’s called crisis management.

So when we attempt to “crisis manage” ourselves (career, ego, job, children), we run into trouble when it harbors fear and hinders growth. Psychologists would label this reaction as defense mechanisms.

On my personal level as I begin learning to walk in a new arena of theatre practice, I hope writing about these forces at play on the socio-political and their potential impact on the personal serves as a reminder and a call to me that risks must be taken. That awareness is not self-consciousness.

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