In the recent years, with the accessibility of services like youtube, the rise of social media as a channel for expression and the ease at which videos can be taken and shared in a public platform, criticism on these platforms has also grown. It has become more visible, more sharp and astringent, often times promoting conflict. This phenomenon has been quite an eye opening experience.
There are a variety of reasons for why people post something onto digital virtual space. Some of it is out of a need to defend or proclaim a passion. Some of it is to share something beautiful. Some of it is to present the author as an expert. Some of it is to satisfy and urge about declaring who you are and what you stand for. Some of it is for marketing purposes, to attract people to an event or dancers who teach. Some of it is just to express.
I personally try to celebrate because I don't think people spend enough time doing that. Its so easy to lament and complain and find sympathy in my "plight" but I realize all that is doing is building up negativity and finding company in the negative space I walk into. So, some time ago, I decided that I would rather be celebrating, be grateful and be graceful in my virtual interactions because that is the kind of space I would like to be in. I'm not talking "kumbaya and we all agree": I'm talking we all treat each other with courtesy and respect our differences while we celebrate out similarities.
This blog is my take on criticism and how to flip some of the negativity around.
Let me first share two things:
1) I personally believe criticism IS productive when done appropriately (timing wise) with courtesy and respect.
2) A conversation or any discourse to gain empathy and understanding is practically impossible on social media: its best done face to face when you get to know people.
I am writing this article as a response to some things I have seen and heard about the impact of strong and sometimes hateful/negative criticism has on the online community. I also write as a teacher and community leader who has a voice that other people do listen to and take to heart. If you follow me on facebook or read my blogs, you know that I do not offer criticism online. I think that it is difficult to do in such a public forum because I have't figured out a way to ensure that everyone will receive it the way I intended.
Yet here I am writing about criticism to offer a different view: hopefully one that encourages one to take pause before writing down remarks that can be considered unkind, inflammatory and negative. Also, for the ones that are reading a thread, to also process what you read and hear and make decisions based on your own views and conclusions.
Why is it so hard to receive criticism and more importantly provide criticism with grace and respect?
One of the things that I admire and respect in people is the ability to consistently give criticism with generosity and empathy to the people or group that is being criticized. These individuals model what I aspire to every time I hear them give criticism. They are comfortable in their experiences and always courteous and kind in their delivery of critique. This to me is a thing of beauty as this space (criticism) is so biased toward negativity.
I think this is a skill that takes practice along with an examination of your own values and beliefs as a critic and as someone that receives criticism. Taking time to be courteous and respectful lends itself to better interactions no matter what the conversation or feedback. Disagreement or having a very different view or challenging someone does not have to be about being angry or hateful.
And so here are things to ponder and perhaps practice:
ITS ALL ABOUT CONTEXT
How you receive feedback is implicitly affected by the context that you receive it in. There are so many factors here that it almost impossible to account for them all. If you are already in that negative space tho, then that is your context.
Also - do you know the context of the person giving the critique? Most of us never consider this, especially online when you interactions with others are limited by those virtual airways. Its even harder to truly understand context in the virtual world.
Meeting face to face and getting to know someone offline is the best way to get to know someone's context.
Assume good intentions unless you have data otherwise.
I know this one is hard because some people, well, they just don't have good intentions right? If that's how you feel, then take a pause and breather before you write or say anything,
SPEAK FROM "I"
Blanket, sweeping statements tend to offend: especially if your views don't represent all. I personally don't want to represent all, that's a LOT of weight to carry. I have a hard enough time managing myself.
I know part of my journey has been to learn about my own biases and how much they color and shape my views on things and people. I am a teacher and that for me holds some responsibility for always sharing from an "I" perspective instead of "we". I speak for me and not for others.
THE LOUDEST VOICE DOESN'T REPRESENT EVERYONE
When you're in a group page, please remember: that one person doesn't represent everyone. You can choose to agree with this voice and say it represents you but don't even think for a second that it means the everyone else feels the same way. To test it out in a group, just check the number of members in a group and the number of people that interact with the message, usually they numbers are not aligned: there's always more members.
MAKE UP YOUR OWN MIND
Don't just take someone else's word on the matter. People speak their truths and if you're lucky, they have the wherewithal to acknowledge what they don't know but usually, who wants to publicly talk about what they don't know?
DISAGREEMENT is NOT EQUAL TO "YOU'RE A BAD PERSON"
Social dancing, at the end of the day, is about enjoying the expression of a movement you shared with another to song. That's a personal and subjective feeling that only you and your partner can talk about with certainty. Criticism that's more about right and wrong becomes less of a critique and more like fact checking. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and everyone is entitles to agree or disagree.
I have met many people that treat disagreement as "you're wrong" and in doing so, diminish and mistake what I have to share which is simply a different point of view.
EVERY STORY HAS AT LEAST 2 SIDES
When we're talking about people, EVERY story has at least 2 sides. In my experience, this has always been true. Even when I and also part of the experience, different people retell the same story, through their own lens. Personal biases do come out even when you watch a video or read a transcript. I do attempt every so often to represent all sides but that is a very tough thing to do.
COURTESY AND COMMON SENSE
In the end this is my guiding principle and one that has served me well so far. There are a few other common pieces of advice that I think call into this category:
- If you have nothing good to say, just don't say anything (this is ofcourse assuming your goal is to get along).
- Put yourself in the other person's shoes.
- Ask yourself how you would feel if you received the words you are about to deliver?
- Never assume that you know what the other side is thinking
- Kindness is like money in the bank
- Be open to possibilities