“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”― George Orwell
I hate criticism. Yet, I open myself up to it all the time. Not just because I’m an idiot, but deliberately with my writing. As some of you know, I sometimes write about delicate subjects.
As a writer, I believe I have to make a stand in order to challenge others. Otherwise the piece of writing amounts to a limp willy. It doesn’t penetrate anything!
But that inevitably means I end up drawing lines in grey areas. That opens the piece of writing – and me, by extension – up to criticism.
I believe this is a healthy thing. Provided I listen to the other side. Provided I’m willing to consider a different point of view.
But still, I hate being challenged. So, I often get anxious before I publish one of these posts. When someone does criticise my work, it feels like I’ve been punched in the stomach.
I end up questioning myself. Asking why I feel the need to go to these places. Why I don’t just shut the fuck up and attend to my own garden.
I know I could easily write some hopeful feel-good post about love. That will certainly get more likes. But truthfully I love thinking about topics such as nihilism, religion, God, and death. Ones that many people avoid like the plague.
When I write about these things, as hard as I’ve thought about them, I know my argument isn’t fully formed. I know I must wrong on many levels.
But does that mean I shouldn’t attempt to form one? Knowing that what I’m saying is wrong in some way, shape, or form (or perhaps entirely)?
Should I not try to make sense of the incomprehensible? Should I not try to have an opinion as poorly formed as it might be? Should I not put that opinion out there even if it is laughed at, stamped on, or completely torn apart?
Should we not do the same with any piece of art? As imperfect as it is?
That’s one of the main reasons I put my opinion out there: to help find the blindspots in my thinking. Which are both gigantic and numerous. I’m not just trying to challenge you with my writing; I’m trying to challenge myself.
My criticism of your criticism.
“A critic is someone who enters the battlefield after the war is over and shoots the wounded.”― Murray Kempton.
There’s another reason.
When I feel particularly anxious about publishing something or hurt by someone else’s comments, I realise, at least, there’s some falsehood in me that I need to pay attention to. A part of my ego that needs to be broken down.
At the end of the day words are just words. We’re the ones that give them meaning. If you’re offended by someone else’s words that’s your problem. That’s your belief crashing with reality.
I’m not saying don’t critise or challenge other people. Quite the opposite. What I am saying is check your own emotional reaction first. Look inward and note, “Hey, there’s something for me to think about there.”
Then take a breath or ten. Re-read that post that angered you and really consider the argument – but also, crucially, what triggered your emotional reaction. If you really don’t agree with something, say so.
But maybe start with something you do agree with, something you do like. There is a way to break the ice. Otherwise you’ll just end up smacking your head against it.
When I see some of the comments people make. The sheer disdain. The savagery of certain trolls who feel the need to put others down. It’s no wonder people remain silent.
Why would you want to subject yourself to that kind of torment? But what happens in a culture like this? Where people are so afraid to exercise their freedom of speech? What is happening?
I’ll give you an example.
The other day I was watching a gangster movie. A guy was kneeling before a mobster with a gun pointed toward his head. Just before the mobster pulled the trigger, the guy kneeling said, “Darn you!” Of course, this had been doctored so as not to offend people. But then, he has his fucking brain blown out! What kind of fucked up morality is that?
To me it speaks to a country where guns are legal but saying something that might hurt someone else’s feelings increasingly isn’t. Where someone can get up on stage and slap someone else in the face before picking up his award to a standing ovation.
Do we really believe cancel culture is having the desired effect? Is it really silencing hateful voices, or is it, in fact, encouraging them? Worse, is it not making good people less resilient in the face of those voices? Is it not making us all less tolerant?
The write thing to do.
“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”― Winston Churchill
Here’s where I contradict myself.
Words are just words in relation to the meaning we give them. But the ability to say those words in the first place is priceless. Freedom of speech isn’t a given. It’s something we must fight for. One way to do that is by exercising that freedom. So be brave. Speak up. Say what it is you really think.
Right or wrong.
But be humble enough to consider the other side and admit when/where you might have it wrong. If you need help understanding something, ask questions. If you’re struggling to see it from the other side, become curious, not judgemental. We all have our beliefs. We all cling to them out of security. We’re all ignorant to a large degree. We all just want to be heard.
Be sensitive to that.
It’s so easy to attack others – to place them on a lower pedestal. To laugh at their mistakes or deride their point of view. It’s much harder to put yourself in their shoes and consider where their argument comes from.
It’s even harder to put yourself out there despite these things – or rather precisely because of them – because you believe, as much as it hurts, it’s the write thing to do.
You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://clear-air-turbulence.com
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33 thoughts on “The Write Thing To Do”
I call feedback what you call criticism. It’s really difficult to give but also to receive feedback. In spite of the many courses / reading / videos I followed, I still find it difficult. And sometimes when I speak out my opinions, I am attacked. This is when I held back. I don’t like being attacked, I don’t think I am aggressive but I am assertive. Maybe some people don’t like it. Excellent piece David!
I call it constructive criticism versus destructive criticism. Feedback is perhaps better terminology. At any rate the distinction is important. I think it’s also important to try and receive it as such as difficult as it is sometimes. Thanks for commenting Cristiana 🙏
I recognise a lot of what you say in myself and you’re right, it really is hard sometimes to say what I really want to say; especially when the majority of comments are stating the opposite.
For me it’s about the potential reaction to my posts/comments – imaginary ego stuff? – that concerns me and the effect criticism has on me. I much prefer to be agreed with 🙂
But like you suggest, some things are too important ‘not to say’ and if we’re being true to ourselves isn’t that showing respect to others and those we are disagreeing with?
Are ‘we’ forgetting the true art of debate – without getting verbally abusive – resulting in anodyne comments and responses?
Thank you for your thoughts and questions on this 🙏🏼
Thank you for sharing yours Margaret. It’s tough isn’t it? I think being honest about that, at least, makes it easier to receive criticism/feedback. Having that awareness that it often has to do with our own emotional response rather than what someone had said. It helps to see through those emotions and actually take that feedback/opinion on board. Instead of getting overly defensive, hardening our views and learning nothing. That’s the danger when people attack others. It only serves to strengthen each others views and deepen the divide. It has the opposite effect. Thank you Margaret. I appreciate your comments 🙏
With every political cycle, we have moved further away from the Hegelian dialectic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis into greater divisiveness.
We are getting too caught up in binary thinking. One is right, so the other is wrong. One is good, so the other is bad…
We have lost the art of respectful discussion. I am not on the same political page as some of my closest friends, but we have a heart for similar goals. The discussions enriches each of us.
It’s being able to have the conversation while remain receptive and respectful. I agree. We seem to have raised a generation who think in terms of having to be right or else. The reality is – when it comes to complex matters that effect everyone – there is no right or wrong, black or white. Only grey. We all need to remain humble and open to very black and white truth that none of us have the whole picture. None of us are ever completely right. Thanks Jasper. Appreciate your comment 🙏
I hade a professor tell me that it’s good to be controversial. It means that others care about what you do/say. Drawing criticism means others are thinking, and you could be spurring change. I haven’t agreed with everything you’ve written, but I’m glad you keep writing. Thanks!
I agree. Being controversial sparks important conversations. If nothing else it helps others think differently.
I often don’t agree with what I’ve written too! To hold or have a thought and later challenge/change it. That’s an important aspect of growth. Thank you for taking the time to read/comment. 🙏
I love how you point to criticism giving us an arrow to something within ourselves. There is something that Dr. Phil says (although I have no idea how I know this because I’ve never watched his show so hopefully I’m getting it right) – “There’s something about that guy that bugs me about myself.”
The “write” thing to do – so clever and I think you’re on to something. Hard to be exposed but when people give us meaningful feedback, hopefully we’re on our way to somewhere worth going. Thanks for this post, AP2!
Thanks Wynne! Carl Jung said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” I like the way Dr. Phil put it. A good way to view our own reaction/judgement of others. 🙏
I love George Orwell, that’s a great quote you chose. He would totally like my criticism of your criticism. Keep it up, AP2!
Haha. I believe he would. Thanks Milena. And don’t stop challenging me, as much as it hurts. Wishing you well 🙏
you are welcome, i can’t really change who i am unless i pretend. thanks so much
Interesting ideas 🙂
If it gets people thinking, that’s all I hope for. Thank you for taking the time to read/comment. 🙏
The problem is that we live in a time when one particular side says the other’s opinions are supposedly violent or hateful and then declares that they therefore have no need to engage with it.
Precisely. It’s an either or mentality that prevent either side from seeing that the truth might (probably) lie somewhere in the middle. 🙏
Thanks for daring to share your thoughts. I think often it’s the sharing that’s most important – vulnerability leads to the opportunity for criticism or even rejection, but it can also lead to deep connection and even intimacy. I heard a Lutheran pastor once say that life is lived most fully in the tension. I think he was onto something!
I fear the current climate is making it harder for people to feel like they can be open and vulnerable without ridicule/rejection. It takes great strength to wear your heart on your sleeve. Ultimately I believe the rewards are worth it. Thank you David 🙏
I needed this.
“But be humble enough to consider the other side and admit when/where you might have it wrong. If you need help understanding something, ask questions. If you’re struggling to see it from the other side, become curious, not judgemental. We all have our beliefs. We all cling to them out of security. We’re all ignorant to a large degree. We all just want to be heard. Be sensitive to that.”
This! If only there was more of this in the world.
I agree with someone above that maybe it’s not criticism, maybe it is feedback? I think there’s a huge difference between criticism and constructive feedback or discussion. It’s all in the delivery and both parties receptiveness.
I agree with you. I was trying to make a point there about the difference between the two things. I call it constructive criticism versus destructive criticism but perhaps your terminology is better. Feedback is a more positive word than criticism. Either way I think the distinction is an important one to make. You don’t have to chop people down with the sword of truth. You can point with it instead. Thanks E 🙏
Criticism is always difficult when it feels unwarranted, or if it is something we haven’t had the courage to face. Both are tough to swallow cheerfully!
Indeed. Being able to laugh at it makes you bullet proof though. That’s what I’m trying to work on! Thanks Tamara 🙏
I wish you well with that! Criticism is something that I still struggle with. If it is merited and given in a constructive way I will listen, bit if not then I tend to block it out as something that the other person is just needing to get off their chest and may have little or nothing to do with me.
Nice post AP2. I agree this is the write thing to do. As a writer well I would say be careful as not to offend the readers
Wow, AP! I haven’t seen much abusive commentary on WordPress! Sorry to hear it! This post is very well-written and persuasive, and I hope you convinced the offenders to improve their manners. I did see a site that was soliciting prostitution, but it didn’t take long for WordPress to take it down! 🙂
Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to
Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to tell the truth, but that’s even more reason to state it.
Agreed Teresa. As scary as it can be to do so, I believe we gain confidence from it. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment 🙏