“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
You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com
You can also email him directly at: email@example.com