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Author Topic: The trouble with criticism
Member # 1063

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Quoth A Rat Named Dog:
If you don't like a project that someone has poured their heart and soul into (such as the Medicine Show, or this site), then it seems to me that you have two honorable options:

1. Contact the originator in private and express your concerns and suggestions respectfully.

2. Shut your damn mouth.

Trying to publically flay them or sabotage their goals for the horrific sin of failing to fully please you is an act that truly mystifies me. Why would any human being even think of doing that?

Why? I know why, because I am guilty of this. It's not because you want to hurt the person in question. It's not because you want to harm his work. Instead, it is because you have forgotten, if only temporarily, what it means to create something truly meaningful to you. It is so easy to look at a famous author and assume he is not bothered in the slightest by people attacking his works, because it happes all the time. For that matter, it is so easy to look at anyone and assume they won't be bothered by your comments, or that they somehow deserve whatever frustration you cause them. The reason you (and by "you" I mean "I") criticize is because you think your criticism is somehow important to someone. Or perhaps hope it is important. You want people to learn from it. You want the author to change his ways because you suggested it, or you want his fans to understand better (agree with you), or you just want to vent to the world. It may be just to yourself, but you believe your citicism matters - and in doing so forget that it may also hurt.

I have criticized OSC's books. I have criticized his articles. I have criticized his opinions and his views and his methods of running this website. I might have been wrong to do so - to take something that someone has put so much into and casually deconstruct its flaws, or what I percieve rightly or wrongly as flaws, in public.

Am I wrong to do so? Truthfully, I don't know. I DO believe that criticism is important. If I didn't, I wouldn't be here. Through criticism you come to understand things better. I don't think that, by itself, is bad - and I don't intend to stop criticizing. But it IS most definitely dangerous, and done wrongly it can become harmful easily.

And it's not just limited to authors like OSC, or works of arts. Even more so than a book or a movie or a website, one's personal beliefs are a thing one pours their heart and soul into. One's belief system is one of the most important projects of all in any person's life. Accordingly, how can we sit back and casually attack it, as if it's just a set of axioms? It's not - it's a person's belief system, and is attached fundamentally to that person. Yet, here on this forum, I and others are constantly criticizing the beliefs of one another - that's the point, or at least one of the major points, of having this forum. Is this point inherently cruel? Is it wrong?

I don't believe so. I find too much value in critical discussion to write it off just like that. But it can't be done so casually that we are simply trampling on a person's soul. I think I am guilty of that crime, and for that I apologize. It was never my intent to belittle anything or harm anyone's feelings - whether that be in regards to OSC's most recent novels or someone's views on abortion. Rather, it just comes out sounding that way on occassion, because it is difficult to criticize something while simultaneously expressing respect for it. It is difficult - but necessary! It is good to be critical at times, especially here on this forum, but at the same time it is absolutely necessary that that criticism is not expressed as an attack, that it is balanced by expressions of the respect that the alternative inevitably deserves just for being believed.

I'd like to say that I do that effectively, but I don't. I get carried away fairly often with various ideas of one sort or another, enough so that I forget how those ideas might be interpretted by others - not just as ideas but as attacks. I do not know how to avoid this entirely, but in part I think it might help to point out just what I mean beforehand, like I am attempting to now. I don't mean to judge people. I don't mean to attack them. I don't mean to disrespect them. I mean to just express a viewpoint that, ultimately, is just a viewpoint - no more inherently proven or unproven than someone else's. I believe it, yes, but that does not mean I think you are fool for not agreeing. If you are taking me seriously enough that something I say angers you, don't. If you see something that I don't, it's just as possible that I'm totally wrong, and I am aware of that fact even if I do not come out and say it. And I suspect that even though OSC might be read as dismissing or attacking viewpoints in his essays, he feels similarly, and is interested in hopefully advancing understanding rather than belittling someone or something. And I suspect that goes for the criticisms made by most Hatrackers too. I think, ultimately, most people aren't nearly as mean or disrespecting as they can sometimes seem to be.

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Princess Leah
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Aw, look at it. It's so *cute* just lying there.


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Member # 1063

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Hmmm... I think you may have missed the point. [Wink]
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Architraz Warden
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Much like the rest of this topic's history, I don't think she missed the point...

She just found an entirely different and equally valid one.

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Member # 1807

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Tres, I don't have much to say...but I really enjoyed your post and thought it hit on some really valid points.


because it is difficult to criticize something while simultaneously expressing respect for it. It is difficult - but necessary!

I don't think that's difficult at all. I think the difficult thing is to solely criticize someone or something without also criticizing their belief system. At the least it's difficult and at the most it may be impossible in certain situations.

And I guess the question for me is...when you're in a situation where it's impossible to criticize someone(or something they've done), without also criticizing their belief system, is it still right to do so? That is, assuming they haven't asked you specifically to do it.

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El JT de Spang
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Unless you've spent a lot of time on the receiving end of harsh criticism, it's hard to understand how much self-restraint is required to accept it without reacting. The natural reaction to someone bagging on something you created is "Nuh-uhh!". Or a sarcastic comment, or by attacking the criticizer right back.

This becomes even more true the more poorly phrased the criticism is. So people without an overabundance of tact are apt to provoke a more emotional reaction to what may be perfectly well-intentioned and valid critiques.

I hope I'm not being too obtuse. I don't want to this thread to become a finger pointing exercise.

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Member # 4704

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Personally I try to listen to all criticism. If it is incorrect, who cares what they think? Not me. But usually it is to some degree correct, or at least points in a correct direction. In that case it is time to make a change, which does not have to be the one the critic suggests.

I also try to be blunt when I criticize, even beliefs. People criticizing me or my beliefs (usually) care nothing for my feelings, and while I am ok with that they cannot reasonably expect me to care for theirs, at least if we are having a discussion rather than a sermon. To use an extreme example, if you think it is ok to rape children, you are wrong and your beliefs suck.

Yes, criticism hurts. But if it is true, it is no less than you deserve. Either change something about yourself or ignore it. ("Pills! I need pills. The pills make the phone calls go away.") Your feelings are not relevant to another's perspective, nor should they be.

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