Handle With Care: Honesty is Compassion

This is a daily prompt.

How are you at receiving criticism? Do you prefer that others treat you with kid gloves, or go for brutal honesty?

First of all, in writing I have encountered many who put their work out there for the world to see, and yet do not expect or desire any criticism. Some have even stated this quite openly. “Only positive comments please!”

Art doesn’t work that way. Art is not about communicating with yourself. It is not even about communicating with just your family and friends who know you and where you are coming from. It is about communicating with the world. If what you are trying to say is not coming across to the random passer-by who is looking at your work completely cold, then it is not working and you need to go back to the drawing board and try again.

And when you put your work out into the world, you can’t just demand everyone love it or shut up. The world doesn’t work that way.

Too often I have seen artists get lazy and some actually get worse when surrounded by people who do nothing but blow smoke up their skirts. If one wants to improve as an artist they have to be able to take criticism. Period. End of. You can not expect to get better by only listening to people praise you.

Is all criticism valid? No. But you learn to suss out what is personal taste or snark vs. what is legit criticism.

“This book is horrible because this character cheated on her boyfriend and we’re expected to sympathize with a cheater!” is a matter of personal taste, the writer’s ethics clashing with that particular reader’s who can’t cope with a heroine engaging in a, perhaps misguided, act of autonomy. Toss that sort of criticism aside.

“This book doesn’t work for me because the character is unsympathetic. It felt like she was cheating on him out of petty revenge. If it was more than that her emotions and reasoning isn’t there” is legit criticism. The writer failed to communicate the character’s motivations.

How is a writer going to learn and get better if they can’t listen to that?

If you do not desire the feedback of the masses, then you should just circulate your work among friends who will choose kindness over honesty. Though personally, I think honesty is the true kindness.

On a personal level I am bull-headed and sometimes a bit dense. Sometimes very dense. Rolling up in my grill to lay it out, plain as day, is often the only thing that will get through and make me learn.

When I was 30, I went out to lunch with an older friend of mine. I got on a rant about how horrible men where. All the men I had dated were either losers, emotionally dysfunctional or outright cads. Men sucked.

My friend said quietly, “Kip, the only constant in all those relationships was you.”

Was I mad? Oh, yeah.

He had been very sympathetic and supportive with me during my last breakup, so him smacking me across the face (metaphorically) like that was a shock.  But after sputtering protests and snark and then stewing in silence, I later realized he had a point. I chose those men, I helped shape those dysfunctional relationships. I needed to look at why.

If he had stayed silent, continuing to do nothing but balm my wounds, would that have truly been helpful? Would I have learned anything from my experiences other than anger and mistrust? Maybe someday I would have realized my responsibility in these relationships by myself, but how many more crappy relationships would I have had before that happened?

(And that is beside the BF who simply didn’t communicate if I was doing something that bothered him. I had one BF that never complained about anything I was doing, but went out and cheated on me. It didn’t come out until the break up when it was too late. How the hell was I supposed to fix it if he didn’t tell me that what I was doing was really bothering him?)

And recently I did chose tact over honesty, trying to gently hint. It resulted in a ugly situation where the person proceeded on a path I did not agree with, that was potentially harmful to someone else and themselves. When I finally put my foot down, they felt betrayed. They and the situation would have been better served with honesty at the start, not at the end.

And again, I have learned to suss out what is legit criticism from people just being mean-spirited. Is my being overweight (and I am, and I am working on that) harming anyone else in any way? No. Do you think you are telling me something I don’t know? No. Then why bring it up except to be nasty? Go away now. Shoo.

Honesty means a great deal to me, it is vitally important. I think it is perhaps the most important quality any relationship, or it runs a near second to “being equals.”

So be honest with me. I need it. And you aren’t going to get through any other way.

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