A while ago I was responding to an article written by @Shannon Ashley. She finds it hard to read any of the responses because of the trolls out there.
I responded that one should just consider the source. Anyone that is mean, nasty, or tries to put down the writer obviously has a problem and it is not the writer’s responsibility to read or engage with these people.
I have never understood anyone having the need to be that way and since I haven’t done much writing myself I didn’t understand being upset by someone that is such a jerk.
Criticism, when it is constructive, is great and I think anyone with any respect for their writing will accept it in the manner it is given. Put-downs are not constructive criticism.
While I gave this advice in good faith, I hadn’t been exposed to trolls when I wrote that response.
First thing is to be honest and say I do not like conflict. Throughout my work life, I have been able to defer conflict with diplomatic words. When that didn’t work, I would simply avoid any involvement with that person or persons. I also did not put out my feelings about controversial ideas even if I felt strongly about them.
Sometime after I wrote my response to Shannon Ashley, I at a writing group where we criticize our work with one another. I have been to many such meetings. While not everybody agrees or likes what has been read at the group meeting, we follow a format. Each member usually says what they enjoyed about the piece that was read and then will discuss concerns they may have found with that piece and offer constructive criticism.
I felt my response to Shannon was appropriate but that was before I had someone tell me what I had written in my group was racist. This member cited an instance where she thought I had written racist ideas. After she stated that, one other woman in the group agreed with her.
I was flabbergasted. I have never knowingly said anything racist in my life. I realize I might not be aware of something which may now be inappropriate or politically incorrect and would be happy to be corrected and learn from it.
I am not good at immediate responses and couldn’t speak for a few moments. Even when she pointed out the parts that she had felt were racist I still didn’t see how it could be taken as a racist statement. I was stating what the main character had said.
The first statement this woman took issue with was my main character saying a lot of immigrants come to our country to do jobs we can’t fill with our own people. She was on her way to a multicultural health fair steering committee and wondered why there was opposition to this fair. It helped new immigrants assimilate faster and feel like they belonged. The second racist statement was that her father had been a new immigrant and he had been proud he never had to rely on welfare.
I was so hurt and felt awful and realized what Shannon had been talking about. Listening to the rest of the people in the group that did not feel the same way as this woman, did help, but it was a new sensation to me. Most people understood in my story this was a remark from an immigrant that arrived in this country in 1924. There was a lot of discrimination at that time that was socially approved and the character was talking about her father being proud of being able to provide for his family by his own hard work.
I recently listened to a TEDx show with Brene Brown. It is the first time that I have listened to her. She is a most captivating woman.
Brené Brown: Why Your Critics Aren’t the Ones Who Count
Her talk was on courage and vulnerability. I was quite taken by it. I am a visual learner and I learn best by storytelling. She employed this in her talk.
One of the things that she said was that she had purposely stayed small in her work to avoid the mean and nasty comments that would be sure to follow if she put herself outside the university environment. She enjoyed the constructive criticism as it was part of being a researcher, but the personal meanness was something else.
“of course she embraces imperfection. What choice does she have, take a look at her?”
OMG, I can’t even imagine wanting to show my face after reading something like that about myself because it is the same thing I might be thinking in my own head.
She said what allowed her to go ahead and put herself out there and be brave was an article regarding Teddy Roosevelt and a speech he gave at the Sorbonne in 1910. It is sometimes called the ‘The Man in the Arena’ speech.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
From this, she realized three things.
- It is not about winning or losing. It is about showing up and being seen.
- If you show up you will get your ass kicked.
- If you are not in the arena also getting your ass kicked then I am not interested in your feedback.
I think it is the third thing she realized that spoke to me. There are lots of people willing to criticize but I will listen only to those that are out there willing to work hard and put forth their ideas.
What did I learn?
First I survived criticism that felt unfair and hurtful. I took another look at the statements and decided to delete one statement and leave the other. Maybe I learned something.
Secondly, I will be a little braver about putting my stuff out there. I know myself and I will still read all the comments but will only pay attention to the ones that come from the arena!