I recently asked for more critical feedback on my fiction writing, and I was called a Bitch. I’m capitalizing Bitch because it makes me feel regal. Like a Doberman instead of a Chihuahua. (Sorry, Chihuahuas.)
It’s entirely possible that the dogged response came from how I asked for feedback. I questioned if commenters on websites ever said anything other than “I loved this so much!” or “This post made me gush; it was that good.” It is wonderful to hear, until you see that a whole bunch of posts, even ones that are just annotated links to other posts, have those kinds of comments. Then it feels cheap. No one likes to feel that. Much.
As an English teacher, I know that good criticism, honest and fair criticism, can help a writer improve and grow and shine.
So I basically said that on a couple of posts about on-line writing: Why does everyone just swoon over people’s stuff, even when it’s shit? (See where the Bitch may have been applied?) And I was schooled about on-line etiquette of commenting. I think it comes down to this: If you don’t say shiny, happy things, you run the risk of being called a Troll. And for all the “No Bullying!” posts we see, on-line folks sure can be bullies when they don’t like what someone else is saying.
So, can we have actual conversations anymore? Are we relegated, through the fear of confrontation, to just nodding and smiling and occasionally clapping our hands in delighted support? I think we are. And it’s not just on-line.
At a recent gathering of women-of-a-certain-age, a tense moment simmered when the topic of inviting a new member came up. One of the ladies in the group suggested that we look for a new member outside of the ethnicities already represented. Another member took offense at the chosen definition of diversity. And despite the close friendships in the group, no one else entered the conversation. It was like a slow-moving tennis match during which none of the spectators looked directly at the combatants. This would have been where I inserted Awwwk-Warrrd into the conversation, except that, as the newest member, I figured it wasn’t my place.
Race, Politics, Religion, and apparently Criticism of Writing, are touchy subjects at dinner parties – virtual or in real life. But aren’t they also the subjects that need the most discussion? Why can’t we discuss (or conversate, as my students used to say) with differing opinions without feeling the heat rise from our bellies to the tips of our ears?
These two experiences got me thinking more about Bring It to the Table, a documentary project* from a local filmmaker. It’s about beginning to break away from polarizing language. It’s about creating conversations that become part of our country’s dialogue about real issues. I find this such an interesting project, and it’s one that can benefit us all. Read more about the filmmaker and her philosophy on Baristanet.
What do you think? Is it possible to have authentic conversations anymore? Are we all too worried about offending or seeming like “trolls” to others?