Kudos and Critics: The Pleasure and Pain of Writing

      Kudos and Critics: The Pleasure and Pain of Writing

    Writing has been a rewarding avocation of mine for most of my life (by ‘rewarding’ I refer to emotional fulfillment, rather than financial). 

    It has never been my primary profession and I don’t pretend to be a supremely gifted writer, but writing has always beckoned me as a kind of “calling.” 

    I’ve always enjoyed the rituals of expressing my thoughts by putting pen to paper, writing cursive words on a blank page, or more recently, typing on a computer device. 

    My muse has always been ‘Life’ in all its complexities, wonders and woes. I’ve written regular newspaper and magazine columns, op-ed pieces and articles, academic papers and chapters, poems (doggerel!) and books, all of which brought me stimulation and pleasure.

   I leave it to others to evaluate the quality of my writing, but I’ve received sufficient encouragement to continue and not enough criticism to stop. Aside from kudos or criticisms however, I have my own inner urge to continue expressing myself via written words. 

    When I am deeply involved in the process of writing, I often enter a quasi-trance state of inner tranquility and flowing thoughts. External noises and even minor havoc are seemingly walled off from my hearing and consciousness (sometimes to the chagrin of my family). 

    Creative writing has also been “therapeutic” for me in that when troubled, I’ve written (for my eyes only) about my problems in order to work things through, which I’ve found very helpful.

    There were times, of course, when my pleasure was diminished by the pressures of looming deadlines, or challenging topics, insufficient preparation, or by “writer’s block,” an occupational hazard. But none of these deterred me for long, and my joy in writing continued.

     Over the years I received compliments from some readers, as well as critiques from others about some perspectives I had written. While I naturally preferred compliments (surprise!), I also welcomed negative feedback, especially when interesting discussion or debate followed. 

    In my early years of writing, critical feedback was polite and respectful, even when taking me to task. (Sometimes, the critics were right on!)

     And then along came the internet, the explosion of social media, and things changed: Polite discourse was displaced by disdain and derision. There were still kudos, but criticism became more plentiful and personally antagonistic.

    I was not an exception: Critiques of many other (and better) writers and pundits came with an added veneer of nastiness. The respectful and civil disagreements of earlier years were supplanted by insulting and accusatory words, and even threats to the writers.

   There is now such a remarkable amount of anger in these “verbal assaults’ that I can imagine fulminating aggressive snarls emanating from fuming contorted faces.

   As you know, these unpleasant angry remarks in the blogosphere are referred to as ‘trolling,’ and those who do this are called ‘trollers.’ It strikes me that they so frequently seem “outraged!” They are irate about serious issues like politics or the pandemic, but everything is now fair game. They are also outraged about benign, superficial issues: Physical appearances, performances or behaviors, fashion or sports, can provoke equally furious comments.

     Angry trollers feel free to spew hateful comments because they’re protected by the anonymity afforded by popular internet sites. They take advantage of this to inflict intimidation, emotional hurt and even incite physical harm. Social media platforms have enabled cranks and conspiracy theorists to say anything without fear of being identified, confronted or punished. 

     We shouldn’t be surprised: Over the past few years we have witnessed increasing displays of incivility and rudeness in everyday life in shops and the streets, in offices and restaurants, in meetings and even in families.

     Some of our public “models” of behavior, whom adults emulate and youngsters copy, are loud and belligerent politicians, talk-radio hosts or other authoritarian figures. Their bluster and rancor is “negative social noise” which provokes unsettling moods, angst and anger. 

      Thankfully, writers throughout the world are not silenced by verbal nastiness, and they continue their inspired endeavors in all languages, creating columns and op-ed pieces, chapters and books, letters and poetry, drama scripts and screen plays. If anything, writing and other creative pursuits are flourishing beyond any previous era of humanity. 

    Criticism and debate are vital to the Democratic process and we cherish our First Amendment right to Free Speech. We are fortunate that we can express unpopular opinions without fear of official reprisals. But that ability to speak freely cannot justify incendiary language. Assaultive verbal attacks demean and threaten, and can actually hurt or harm individuals. 

    There are legal limits which can be invoked in extreme cases of slander. But I worry about a social atmosphere which enables and encourages rudeness and incivility. When disrespect and aggression become acceptable norms of behaviors, they spread (virally!) via “social contagion.” When benevolence is diminished and rudeness commonplace we are in deep trouble as a society.

      My own writings have occasionally provoked a few readers who vehemently disagreed and felt compelled to include nasty and demeaning insults in their critiques. I have not received threats to my personal or my family’s well-being, but I must say that a few vicious missives have unnerved me.

    I no longer personally respond to nasty criticisms for fear of opening up communications with furious people with self-righteous entrenched beliefs.

    This has unfortunately limited my direct contact with readers since I can no longer engage in the interesting discussions I once enjoyed.

    There are recent signs that giant internet monopolies will finally be better monitored and regulated by governments, so that malevolent and destructive words may soon be diminished, or even extinguished.

    Even without these developments, I will continue to write my own perspectives, and readers will continue to be entertained, edified or enraged, and can ignore, enjoy or disagree with my contributions.

    I just beg of you: Feel free to express your criticisms (and of course your compliments!) to writers, but please, tone down your disgust and hate, your fire and fury.

    It’s not good for your health, and certainly not ours.  

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