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.