Thoughts on Haters

Criticism: The act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.

There are essentially two types of criticism. The first is the type of criticism that focuses on thoughts, ideas and arguments. I like this. This blog is devoted to that level of criticism. The second is the type that criticizes people and their character. I do not like this. Not a fan.

If I do not particularly care for someone, well, first off, I would probably never tell the person unless there was a compelling reason to do so. Yet if I had to tell them, for whatever reason, I would focus on their behaviors, thoughts and/or ideas that I find problematic…not their character or assuming motivation for what they do.

I am a professor. I am professor with an opinion. I am a professor who openly and freely shares his opinion.  I am a very outspoken professor who invites criticism. I actually enjoy being criticized -in the argumentative sense- and challenged. I seek it. How on earth are we ever going to discover new ideas and thought forms unless we continually challenge the status quo thought forms around us? Criticism is not only acceptable…it is sorely needed for a culture to evolve for the better. Just ask Plato or Socrates.

Given this, it does not take a math major to deduce just how much criticism I get…and I love it.

The great majority of people are really wonderful in terms of their feedback towards me -positive, supportive, understanding, and, above all, quite civil and polite. I was evaluated by my peers and students this past semester and every comment received was positive in nature. I was very pleased to earn a stellar evaluation in every sense. Yes, I, like most people, need positive affirmation in my life…it feels good. It is really nice to know you are making a difference in people’s lives as you contribute to the cultural conversation.

Yet there will always be a minority of people who do not just personally criticize, they hate…in fact, they are haters. dear-haters-i-have-so-much-more-for-you-to-be-mad-at-be-patient

If you would like to see a sampling of haters, go to nearly any youtube video and read the comments. Many are mean, spiteful and angry…and, frankly, I am not sure why.

I have had my fair share of haters in my day and I totally get it at one level. In a world full of different personalities, there will be inevitable clashes…I totally get not liking someone, being irritated by someone, completely disagreeing with nearly everything someone stands for…I get that part. I have a, fortunately, very small group of people in my life that I feel this way towards. And, guess what? I rarely think about these people as they are not worth my time and energy for me to do so.

It is the proactive hating part I just do not get. Who the hell has the time?

I suppose in one sense the day you have haters is the day you realize you have achieved something in life.

One of my favorite comedic bits is Jimmy Kimmel’s Celebrity Mean Tweets in which celebrities read very hateful tweets about themselves written by others in a very self-condescending display of spiteful humor. It is fairly simple to conclude that individuals who put themselves out in a public way will be criticized, even further, hated by a small number of people who actually have time and energy for such gross negativity.

I was discussing this idea with Rene’ after she insisted I delete a very hateful comment that someone posted on this blog. I did publish it at first though she opined that it goes against the very nature of this blog -which, she correctly contends, is based on arguing thoughts and ideas- and not being mean spirited and, well, hating. After further reflection she was right, so I deleted it. Wanna hate and be mean? Go to ratemyprofessor or youtube…or find another blog to hate on. (In an ironic twist it does sound as though I am hating the haters, does it not?)

She mentioned a passage from a book she is currently reading by Elizabeth Gilbert entitled, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear who has a different take on those who criticize or even hate:

Pigeonholing is something people need to do in order to feel that they have set the chaos of existence into some kind of reassuring order. Thus, people will stick you into all sorts of boxes. They’ll call you a genius, or a fraud, or an amateur, or a pretender, or a want to be, or has been, or a hobbyist, or an also ran, or a rising star, or a master of reinvention. They may say flattering things about you, or they may say dismissive things about you. They may call you a mere genre novelist, or a mere children’s book illustrator, or a mere commercial photographer, or mere community theater actor, or a mere home cook, or mere weekend musician, or mere crafter, or a mere landscape painter, or a mere whatever. It doesn’t matter in the least. Let people have their opinions. More than that – let people be in love with their opinions, just as you and I are in love with ours. But never delude yourself into believing that you require someone else’s blessing… or even their comprehension… in order to make your own creative work. And always remember that people’s judgments about you are none of your business.

Hmmmm…I like this. I suppose haters are simply ones trying to make sense of their own lives and need to vilify selected others in order to do so. Thus it says far more about them then it can possibly say about you. I suppose we should not put too much stock in either high praise or the hate as people need both their villains and heroes, deserved or not, in order to make sense of their own existence.

So civilly criticize away people! I believe it was the motor city madman, Ted Nugent, who once said, “If you are not making waves, you’re not paddling hard enough.”

I like that. I think that is pretty good advice for all of us. And maybe, just maybe, you can have haters as well -in case you don’t already. And then you can have the honor of knowing you are instrumental in the making of someone else’s personal narrative.

Tell Me Something Good (or bad), Tell Me That You Like It (or not)

Feedback, constructive criticism, critical evaluation –we can choose to call this activity any number of things, knowing one thing is certain: We all need its presence in our lives. Going through life without feedback is like trying to eat your dinner with no utensils –you may eventually get the job done yet not without a lot of unnecessary extra effort and a hell of a mess to clean up afterwards.

As a professor of Communication Studies, essentially I get paid to provide feedback and offer others critical analysis of their work–it’s my job. Over the years I have gained a reputation of being extremely straightforward in this regard. That is simply who I am, a very straightforward guy living a very straightforward life.  I attempt to instill in the minds of all my students that this straightforwardness is not driven by me wanting to be a dick or possessing some diabolical intent, rather it is driven by pure and positive motivation: I want my students to improve –and beating around the bush will simply not get the job done.

Of course I do utilize what I call the “critique sandwich” in my courses, as all critiques MUST begin and end with something positive and encouraging.

When I was recently requested by one of our college deans and head of research, Keith Wurtz, to be the faculty representative for his professional evaluation, I was eager to find out why.

When I asked him, he stated, much to my delight, “Because I know you will not hold anything back and you will be completely honest. I want to improve.”

Nice. That I will. And believe you me…it’s going to be a real challenge to find an area of weakness with that guy -he is good.

Wisdom seeks feedback. Excellence is always looking to improve. True professionals not only appreciate evaluations, they seek them out.

For many years I did not appreciate being evaluated and critiqued. In hindsight, I realize this was the result of my personal immaturity and insecurity. I am not a “woulda-shoulda-coulda” guy, yet I would be remiss not to observe that my growth as a professional and a person was at times stunted due to my resistance to feedback by people who knew better than I.

Pride. Thank the universe it tends to simmer with age. Today I love both good feedback and a big challenge.

Thus when my creative and very talented partner-in-life Rene’ asked me to pitch her screenplay, “Silence Broken,” to different production companies at the “Pitch SlamFest” in Century City last Saturday, I jumped at the chance -yet not without first asking her why she wanted me to do it.

“Cause Jimmy, you could sell snowballs to Eskimos. And you are cute.”

He smiled. Yet inwardly he knew she just didn’t want to do it. It is nerve wracking to say the least.

So off I went to pitch a total chick-flick-on-steroids (or would it be excessive estrogen?) screenplay full well knowing that part of this pitch included being personally evaluated on how well you pitched and where you could stand improvement.

I must say that being critiqued was my favorite part of the day.  The great thing about critiques is we have the freedom to do whatever we wish with them. Good and helpful feedback is the result of a myriad of factors; WHO is critiquing probably being the most influential factor of all. I wanted to hear what these typically younger females had to say as I am usually on the other end of the critiquing equation.

As I pitched a novel/screenplay written by a woman for women -a screenplay/novel that gay men have found way over the estrogen top- the question I would repeatedly be asked as they stared across at this macho shmuck was, “What motivated you to write this?” With a perplexed look on their face to be sure.

“I did not write it. I am pimping, err pitching it for my partner who wrote the novel and my son who wrote and butched up the screenplay,” I answered as they smiled. “I wouldn’t even go see it myself,” I joked.

My first pitch was rough. 50 years on the planet and I was doing something I had never done before, which I LOVE. The representative, Tracy, from Beachfront Pictures, was really sweet and very straightforward in her feedback.

“Don’t call it a chick flick as it demeans the value of the novel.”photo copy

“You must lead by stating it is a novel that is currently being shopped.”

“You have to address what is the driving appeal and storyline in the first act.”

Ok. So I did all that. I listened.

After a couple of pitches and some additional helpful feedback, I had it down. Thus when I got to my third pitch, Crystal from Electric City Entertainment responded with, “Oh my God…that was the perfect pitch!” And, of course, with the follow up question, “What made you write this novel?”

I then came clean and told her I am not a novelist rather a Communication Studies professor commissioned to try and sell this screenplay -we laughed. It appeared she genuinely liked me and the story (I can read bullshit, and trust me, there was plenty of it that day) and provided the feedback that very small production companies -like their own- find period pieces with “low context” plots (meaning there is a lot of splaining to do in many acts) too expensive not to mention that a good “B” level, 18 year-old main protagonist, that has to carry the movie, nearly impossible to find. Bullshit? Probably. If so, she was very good at it.

So after 7 or 8 pitches with several companies taking down my contact information, Rene’ and I got into Jimmy’s mid-life mobile and headed back to Awesometown with very realistic expectations knowing this was not about actually selling something, just the experience of pitching.

As we drove and lamented how tired we both were and could not wait for a nice nap, we both realized, at a level never before experienced, the value of truly and genuinely listening to what credible and credentialed sources have to say about us and our work.

I suppose when you finally know who you are it is not all that threatening.

Some things really do get better with age. And I prefer to eat at the banquet of life with a knife and fork.