Americans are some of the most innovative, indomitable, intrepid risk-takers the world has ever seen. They overcome all challenges, or they go down fighting. They battle against the odds. They respond to detractors either with a defiant “Oh, YEAH? Well, I’ll show you. I’ll come back next year ten times better,” or with a thoughtful “Yeah…I deserved that. I’ll come back ten times better.”
So, when in the heck did we, as a nation, turn into such a bunch of thin-skinned, whiny crybabies? Seriously. I see it every day. It seems we can’t abide being disagreed with, we cannot take criticism in any form, we scream and yell and whine about absolutely every negative happening in our lives, no matter how minor. Any obstacle gets in our way, and we act like we’re dying. Why did this happen? Is there any way to reverse this rather disturbing trend?
I have no real insight into this problem, but I have long wondered whether a lack of real hardship, combined with an overabundance of comfort, praise, and leisure, has weakened us. Challenges don’t have to be overcome any more. We not only tolerate mediocrity, we celebrate it. Self-respect, always better when earned, is now “bestowed”.
Writers are some of the worst offenders. Now that the barriers to publishing have fallen, we can put our work out on the market, which means we have endorsed its quality as being sales-worthy. Often, we have not had to face rejection of any kind before we publish, and are shocked, amazed, and affronted when readers give their sometimes-less-than-charitable opinions. There have been some real beauties on Amazon and Goodreads lately, throwing veritable hissy-fits, kicking their writer-feet and claiming they are being bullied by readers and reviewers.
I am actually very sensitive, which is one of my more detestable qualities. I hate to see a bad review, though not as much as I used to. I suppose I’m allowed to be sensitive (I do hope so, as I haven’t managed to “cure” myself of it despite all efforts), but what I’m NOT allowed to do is react in an unprofessional, uncivilized, un-grown-up manner. If I DO react that way, I must face the consequences.
It’s ok to react to criticism. It’s ok even to dislike it (saying “Thank you, sir, may I have another?” is not required). But hissy-fits are best kept private. My spouse, my publicist, my poor friends, my beleaguered “drafts” folder–all may receive the wondrous by-products of my sensitivity. Will I react in public? Ummm…heck, no!
I wish I could talk some sense into some of my colleagues. They don’t stop at private rantings and mass consumption of ice cream. They threaten legal action, they whine about defamation and damages. They rally their fellow “damaged and defamed” writers in an attempt to crusade against what they believe is unfair criticism. Then, some of them get mean.
The response of the reviewers and readers is predictable–they get hostile. They rally into groups of their own, and they get mean, too. Their tolerance for writer misbehavior goes into the negative range (below zero). Things escalate beyond where they should be on both sides of the line.
It would be nice if reviewers would learn to express their criticism constructively–sure. But I grew up in an era when sarcasm and wit were common tools in the reviewer’s arsenal. Sarcasm, which is usually perceived as “bullying” these days, can be a very effective tool in conveying a reviewer’s opinion. Now, it seems, we must make excuses for every shortcoming we find. The writers certainly will–everything from lack of funding for editing services to…well, let’s just leave it at that.
I don’t review books any more. If I write a good one, I may be accused of being in league with the author. If I write a bad one, I may be attacked by the author. And Amazon has taken the step of disallowing author reviews of others in the same genre. Why was this step taken? Because some authors were attacking their competitors. Ye gods.
Man, are these “first-world problems”, or WHAT! Disease, starvation, ignorance, homelessness, heartlessness…where does “criticism” fall on the scale of hardship? When did we forget how to say: “You know…you’re right. I shall overcome this obstacle and improve. The next offering will be better.” When did we substitute “How dare you interfere with my delusional dreams?”
We did that when we allowed the delusions to substitute for the reality of honest achievement.
What’s the future of America? Indomitable, intrepid, and innovative? Melodramatic, sniveling, and vindictive? I shudder to think. It might be helpful, when we are tempted to throw a tantrum on an online forum in response to a bad review, to pause and consider that people have real problems, that they face terrible choices and hardships every day, and that our ridiculous squeaking will only serve to damage our reputations. To do that, we must take ourselves away from our delusions and admit that we are not, in fact, the point around which the universe revolves.
Our drafts folders, however, are fair game!