After hanging around the social media for a while, I’ve noticed that the word ‘hater’ is often brandished especially in Instagram. As in a person is a ‘hater’ if they offer any kind of criticism or comments that can be construed as ‘negativity’, almost to the point that everyone who is not an admirer or a fan, is a hater. In fact it appears that in the universe of IG, ‘hater’ overlaps with ‘buzzkill’ a lot. Also the New York Times ran a piece on ‘how to deal with the haters‘, with a video of ‘hating’ comments that did not seem all that hateful. The reason I am ‘hating’ on this newly established use of the word, is it inflates the emotional depth of the word and is frankly quite puerile and unfitting in many instances. However, it’s not all hate, I’m going to reward the reader with the stamina to endure this diatribe with some suggestions to work with criticism.
First of all, rest assured, practically none I’ve seen labeled a hater in for example IG is not, in the sense of the word I’ve learned. ‘Hate’ is intense visceral dislike, loathing, up to and including total abhorrence and revulsion. That is not a feeling that comes through in a garden variety social media interaction. If you have even seen true unabashed hatred; the murderous glint in their dilated pupils, the revolted wrinkles around their mouth, and the abject stone-cold loathing in the words only coming through their clenched teeth, you’ll never mix everyday criticism, cynical quips, slight slurs, and garden-variety trolling for that.
To put things into perspective: Klansmen are ‘haters’ towards certain groups of people. People who ask whether or not one might spend just a touch too much thinking about their macro nutrients or whether ones musculo-skeletal system is well balanced and aesthetically pleasing, or whether they themselves think their recent blog post was a bit insipid and perhaps had the intellectual depth of a paddling pool, are not.
Mixing the genuine article with everyday ill-informed, plain unhelpful, or inconsiderate feedback just serves to derail attention from any potential insights and potential real issues to the tone of the feedback, which is in fact constitutes the informal logical fallacy called the ‘tone argument’ or ‘style over substance’, i.e. judging the validity of ones utterances based on the tone and wording, and not the factual and logical merit of the argument.
Anyone who steps into the public sphere by publishing anything in the social media or writing a blog or doing some professional work, will face potentially countless uncaring, unthoughtful, rude, bitter, resentful, or jealous people, or just people who have a completely different opinion on things, different sets of values and goals, different struggles and grievances, hopes and dreams, and different standards. You need to also remember that people are roughly ten times as likely to complain than to leave positive or encouraging feedback. And to be fair, occasionally there might be a bona fide hater in the bunch as well. Regrettably such is life. In the last case, it is best to report that person to proper authorities and not engage.
What you need to realize, is that anything is ever good or bad in reference to a set of values, goals, and other criteria. To take a couple of examples: a powerlifter couldn’t care less how many burpees in a minute you can do, or how skinny you are, but will respect you for deadlifting triple bodyweight. A gallery visitor will not necessarily like your work, if it does not appeal to their sense of aesthetics, or if you combat their politics. You will not be thanked in a community for announcing that The Greater Good demands that you build a wind farm in their back yard. And so on. And of course in the case of resentfulness, jealousy, and bitterness, there is likely some past on on-going struggle that has clouded those persons’ judgment, and that feedback may tell more about them than you.
Further absent from the discussion is the insidious risk that if just brushing all negative feedback aside as ‘hating’ by ‘haters’, you actually might miss being stuck in a rut, doing something not meaningful and not living to your full potential. If you consistently receive mostly negative feedback, take a moment to consider if doing what you do indeed makes sense and provides a meaningful contribution to the world, or should you either adjust your goals or at least the means. It’s a definite warning sign if others’ assessment of your work is consistently different across the board than your; you’ll either be a celebrated genius in two generations, or you’ll fail to contribute to or connect with the mainstream and will not achieve anything significant.
Not to mention that labeling casual unpleasantness of social intercourse as ‘hate’ is not only a logical fallacy, but brings a new toxic aspect to the discourse. Using the hater-hammer in discussion usually shuts it down or commonly first degrades it into name calling. This will further only egg genuine haters and trolls on, who are mainly only in it to elicit an emotional response to start with, and quench any thoughtful criticism that might actually spark some learning. Trolls will starve and go away if you don’t get sucked into that emotional mælstrom that feeds them.
In fact it appears based on my meager experience in public works that, however inconsiderate people are when giving feedback, every so often there’s a point worth considering somewhere, regardless how coarsely it’s put across. It may be that the feedback itself is terribly helpful, but the process of reflecting on it almost always is, provided it’s done with honesty and presence of mind. It’s up to a professional to make like an oyster, take that grain of sand and build a pearl of wisdom around it.
And don’t get me wrong, I get a lot of feedback in my line of work, and sometimes it is harsh, straightforward, and even downright rude. I’m invested in my work, I care for it, and derive pride in doing a good job, so of course it stings occasionally. However, you also learn to deal with it, or you’ll get out of that business. To be constructive, let me finish off with my three-point program on how to deal with criticism or feedback in general:
Number one: distance yourself emotionally from the feedback. Rarely anything good came from responding to feedback angry or bewildered. Take time to settle down before you go any further.
Number two: assess the feedback. Don’t let the feedback get under your skin, but take it seriously. Once you’ve settled down, take a moment to see what the person who is giving you feedback is actually saying or trying to say. Reflect on the feedback from different perspectives; try to put yourself in their shoes, and look at it as an outsider. See if it makes sense in the first place, if there indeed is a problem, and then determine what are the corrective actions as proposed by the feedback, and/or other information available to you.
You may ask what the person meant if they seem to act in good faith but you don’t understand what they’re getting at. You may discuss it with a colleague or a friend to see their perspective. Cluster your feedback in terms of demographics to see are the some groups who are particularly opposed or supportive. If it’s totally irrelevant even after a consideration, leave it aside. If it’s actionable, move ahead. Don’t neglect to look at the overview at this point, as discussed above, consider whether all or only some of your feedback is negative, and if that is the case, whether you really are on the right track.
Number three: put it into action. If you have arrived to the conclusion that there indeed is a problem, and that there are some actionable ways to fix it, determine what ways suit your resources and goals. Alter what plans you have, or make new ones. Act on them and follow up.
Now let’s go on and build those pearls of wisdom from the grains that are thrown our way!