Recently, I’ve received some rather pointed criticism, mostly of my poetry, and all over on the other blog. Criticism is interesting for several reasons:
- As to what it says about the work being criticized.
- As to what it might say about the critic.
- As to what their reaction might indicate about the person who is being criticized.
Let’s take each of these, in turn.
The Merits of the Criticism.
Sometimes, criticism is helpful and direct, like pointing out (unintentionally) misspelled words and the like. I typically just “fix” whatever it is that was pointed out. I write in an extremely rapid manner and don’t do a lot of proofreading, so, I’ll take the help.
Other times, though, fairly innocuous comments completely rub me the wrong way. I wrote a piece recently about how I knew, at a pretty young age, that girls wanted guys who were more attractive than me. Note, that I in no way said (in the poem) that these girls were somehow bad people for feeling that way, or in any way less desirable girls.
I got the following comment: “Smacks of Aesop’s sour grapes to me.”
My first thought was, “No, because, in that fable, the fox decides the grapes he can’t reach must not be any good. I was not saying that. I bemoaned missing out on relationships with girls I thought were worth knowing better.”
My second thought was, “Have you even read the original fable, or my poem?”
My third thought was “Comment disapproved,” and I moved on with my life.
In discussing the merits of any criticism, the motivations of the critic tend to come into play, so we’ll go there next.
The Motivation of Critics
Let’s start with the obvious: when you criticize someone’s writing, you are essentially saying you could have written it better than they did. My usual response is, “Well then, by all means do, over on your blog.”
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but many things in our society — no, make that *most* things — get turned into competitions. Now, no one is actually staging the competition, and there are no prizes, and the whole thing is idiotic, but — people are surely going to try to win.
Comments on blogs, or Facebook, or (God forbid) YouTube paint a picture of a sort of weird delusional subculture of super-competitive part-humans who think they are actually winning arguments. Or winning at art, or sports, or relationships, or politics, or — you name it.
Just as an observation, people who offer criticism typically hate being criticized themselves, which brings us to the psychology of receiving criticism.
The Reaction of the Criticized
My natural reaction to most criticism is for it to fill me with whatever amount of vitriol I perceive the criticism to contain.
That’s an awful lot of power to give my critics.
It’s an interesting contrast to how I react to praise. I am (like many of you, I’m sure) uncomfortable with praise, although I usually will say something along the lines of “thank you,” upon receiving it.
The truth is, I am less gratified by praise than relieved to find it isn’t criticism.
What I am gratified for, though, are people who’ve read my work who say kind words in support of it. You all are the best.
And we didn’t even have to have a competition to determine it.