Be a Shield, Not a Target | On Criticism

JordanMy Big Mouth7 Comments

What I have learned this week: when you put yourself out there for public view, you open yourself to criticism.  Audiences claim and often, I think, dehumanize, anyone in a public sphere; just look at celebrities–we consider them “fair game” for any projection, as though their fame denies them their right to privacy or humanity. Don’t worry–I’m not calling myself anything near to famous–only public. My blogs and my essays, my stories and novels go out into the world where strangers can  (and do) read them. And lately, it seems, my thoughts have pissed a few people off (I didn’t even think I was controversial). Maybe this has happened to you, too.

But you don’t have to be a target. You don’t have to take the ire of what my friend Roz called “Keyboard Gangsters.” Especially  not if they derail any forward momentum of your own. And, what’s more, putting your opinions and thoughts out there doesn’t mean you “deserve” unpleasantness.

People who want to engage in genuine dialogue will ask questions, pose hypotheticals, and leave judgments to the wayside. If you feel attacked, you’re not hearing an invitation for discussion–you’re being dumped on.

We all have judgments. We all think we know better about something. That’s human (and sometimes, you really do). But the Internet leaves too much opportunity for the kind of hit and run lobbing of self-righteous or hateful commentary without the need to take responsibility. It lets people experience the quick and dirty rush of feeling  powerful, which is, of course, a false sense of power.  But it abounds in this digital age.

I moderate my comments. That means if you leave me a crappy, mean-spirited, thoughtless or cruel comment, chances are good I won’t allow it through. And it’s not because “I can’t take it”–but because, I’m still allowed that choice, and I just don’t have the energy to spare being raked over coals by someone who isn’t interested in a two-way conversation that leads to growth.

And what is writing if not a series of choices? Whether you write fiction or essays, you choose what goes and what you embellish. You choose what experiences to give your characters, and what truths to tell. If you leave a comment on a blog or an article, you choose to support, detract, or argue. The subject matter doesn’t “make” anyone have to respond.

Don’t forget that you have the choice when you receive criticism that goes for the throat (and I am differentiating that from critique–which offers thoughtful, helpful suggestions for improvement, best when solicited) to put up a shield. Just because you wrote an opinion in a public forum doesn’t make you a target. You don’t have to “take it.”

Criticism will always exist, and it may come for you with fangs and claws when you least expect it. Throw up your shields. Don’t take it personally.



JordanBe a Shield, Not a Target | On Criticism

7 Comments on “Be a Shield, Not a Target | On Criticism”

  1. Susan Jennings

    Jordan, How timely your blog was today. I recently had a short story published online. The first review was scathing, sarcastic and hurtful and quite unnecessary. After I licked my wounds, i realized it was my writing style that was being criticized. The ‘too much’ description was quite intentional, something that is appreciated by most of my readers, and sarcasm over the love story about an older couple was exactly how i had intended it. Certainly not everyone’s taste, but my readers enjoy it and I write for my audience. On reflection, I think he/she got my story, it just wasn’t their taste. In fact the criticism turned out to be a compliment.

  2. Leah

    Beautiful article. You are so right. It’s sad that too many people are so critical today when we should be lifting each other up.

  3. Dayna

    Hi Jordan. I am just starting my blog and this is one of my great fears – being able to handle any criticism of my deeply personal writing/sharing and not take it on. Thank you for this blog and for your mentorship from a distance! I enjoyed your workshop at the Central Coast Writer’s Conference and it was your workshop in particular that gave me the courage to do this.

    1. Jordan

      Thanks for stopping by, Dayna. What I recommend is you enable comment moderation, so you can delete the nasty ones (should you get any) and not have to let them go through on your blog. Just try to remember that there are people out there who make nasty comments just because they are sad and miserable and it has nothing to do with you (see my latest blog: Care & Feeding of the Trolls).

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