“If irony were made of onions, Linze, your editorial would be palpable enough to bring the entire campus to tears.”
The preceding quote is from one of my critics. It’s not only one of my favorites for its witty analogy, but it helped to teach me an important lesson in criticism: Take everything with a pound or two of salt.
Criticism can be a wonderful and beautiful thing in both its professional and personal usefulness, granted the one dispensing it is knowledgeable and thoughtful.
This individual responded to a column I wrote that, in a nutshell, accused white folks of being racist to some degree. Now, as a sociologist and writer, I welcome any discussion on race with open arms and would gladly hear anyone who felt I had missed pertinent aspects of the argument.
The individual, however, signed his letter with a false name and represented himself as being of Spanish-speaking origins. He was, in fact, ultimately a white person, as were the other critics who responded to my argument.
While the moral right or wrongness of the column is impossible to discern, the people who sent in letters or emails to criticize my work helped me immensely in proving my point.
And yet, herein lies the problem: Criticism can potentially be an invaluable life lesson, but most people are in no position to be handing those lessons out.
Can you imagine what the world would be like if all criticism was taken seriously? We would all still be afraid of walking off the end of the flat ol’ Earth.
One of the very first columns I ever wrote, addressing gender relations and “chivalry,” used the example of door opening as a time-tested act of niceness, however rooted in sexist ideology. A critic of mine wrote to me, “Well, I’m still going to open the door for people.”
At the end of the day here, the critic and myself were both sort of winners and sort of losers. He got to feel good and I got to eat up five or so minutes of his time with something he didn’t like, but was forced to think about.
Because his comment was in no way in reference to my writing, but rather a snarky remark, his criticism did nothing to help him explain to me where I went wrong and how I could have made things better. This is where all the salt comes into play.
You will find that in a country of such diversified opinions and social locations, your view or way of living won’t always be the most popular.
Throughout life, we are usually lucky enough to have mistakes that we are criticized for, and with good reason, making us better people ultimately. And yet, just as likely, if not more, you will also run into a lot of dumb people who like to hear themselves talk. Treat your criticism like a margarita: Never turn it down, but always get the salt.