Standing in the arena
A while ago, I wrote something that many, many people – including my wife – greatly appreciated. It was pointed, perhaps a little edgy, and not gentle, but I believed in what I wrote and understand that gentle doesn’t always cut it.
Others did not appreciate what I wrote. Almost all of my critics offered thoughtful critiques and posed alternative points of view. Some were pointed, but then again, I was pointed, too, so turnabout is fair game.
As always, disagreement is both expected and appreciated.
Also, some offered perspectives that I had not considered before, which were also appreciated.
A very tiny group of people were less thoughtful in their responses. One or two were exceedingly unkind, mostly privately through email or on their own social media. They called me terrible and unfortunate names and expressed their opinion in words that I would never even think of using myself.
Really rotten stuff.
In response to this vitriol, another handful of people sent me messages of concern. They worried about how might be feeling or reacting to one or two especially awful remarks.
Those messages of concern were kind, thoughtful, and appreciated, but also blessedly unnecessary.
Here is the truth:
I’ve written a post on my blog – which you may read on Facebook or Goodreads or in my daily newsletter or somewhere else – for the past 19 years without missing a single day. That 7,235 consecutive days of writing a thought, an idea, a story, a memory, a rant, a bit of confusion, and more.
As Elysha rightly said after pointing out one of those especially unkind comments to me:
“You’ve been writing forever. You’re never going to make everyone happy every day.”
This is precisely how I feel.
When you dare to express your opinion in writing every day for tens of thousands of readers, some people will occasionally or frequently stand opposed to what you think. They will disagree with your idea. Despise your opinion. Express outrage over your assemblage of sentences.
This comes with the territory.
Sometimes, that disagreement causes a shift in my thinking. Other times, I might better understand a reader’s point of view without changing my opinion at all. Sometimes a reader will express disappointment or anger over something I have written, and as a result, I will try to use more nuance and care in the future.
But when a reader calls me names? Threatens to stop reading? Insults me in ways that they absolutely would never do if we were standing face to face? Tells others how awful I am? Criticizes me behind my back? Lies about me in some awful way?
I know it sounds crazy to some, but it has absolutely no effect on me.
Part of my non-reaction is because I’ve suffered more slings and arrows than you could ever imagine. I’ve been attacked in ways that, according to attorneys, are truly unprecedented.
When you live publicly as I tend to do, it happens. As a result, my armor is strong.
Also, I maintain perspective at all times. Part of that perspective is the awareness that after nearly two decades of writing and posting every day, you’re going to write things that are poorly received, either because you messed up or people don’t agree.
This also comes with the territory.
Also, in this particular circumstance, I remember this:
The majority of readers appreciated my words. Both on social media and through email, Facebook messages, and the like, I was thanked for my words. Even Elysha, who is often my toughest critic, appreciated my words. If my fans outnumber my critics by a large number, I know I didn’t entirely screw up.
But also, and so important for anyone creating anything that might be criticized by others, I remember the following quote by Theodore Roosevelt. His words reside in my heart and mind, and I think about them constantly, relentlessly, and unwaveringly.
If you make things, or even if you’re just thinking about making things someday, these words might be useful to you, too:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
Please forgive Teddy’s singularly masculine pronouns. It was the custom of his day.