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March 21, 2004

Comments to Justin (on criticism and weblogs)

Filed under: — David Giacalone @ 6:17 pm
  • Justin at j.concurring in dissent wrote the following post.  Because the response of ethicalEsq‘s Editor were too long to fit into Justin’s Comment format, they’ve been provided below.  Feel free to add your thoughts.

j.concurring in dissent (Friday, March 19, 2004)

A friend of mine has recently been posting about some of the problems in his life (generally revolving around work and money). An anonymous visitor posted this comment:

You are depressing. And the more you allow yourself to feel the way you do, the more depressed and depressing you’ll be. Your misery is detracting any good thing that could come into your life right now. Your negative disposition and the resentment that you have for the very life you should be owning, is causing the right people and opportunities to turn away from you. You cannot expect any force in this universe to push you in the right direction if you are completely unappreciative of where you currently are. Living in New York City should afford you countless chances to walk down the streets and subway halls to see homeless men and women, with signs of humiliation begging strangers for the change in their pockets. Those are the people who, in my opinion, should be nothing less than miserable. You, you are at the bottom of the totem pole in a very difficult job sector. But unlike some other recent graduates, you at least have a freelance job. You have contacts, you have experience, you are somewhat in demand.

wake up call From my perspective, what is happening here are a few important life lessons. It seems that life is trying to teach you about the trials of being an adult, and simply what struggle is. Turn that into something positive if you can muster up enough energy to be creative and resourceful in a way that will eventually save your sanity. Let your struggle manifest itself into deeper knowledge and even wisdom, and allow it to make you stronger every day that you encounter those tribulations. Just don’t retreat in fear. Don’t turn away out of desperation or with feelings of self-pity. Let it stand you up even taller as you travel through this life, and give you that edge this city demands if you ever want to survive.

I have to generally disagree with this comment. First, being upset about your station in life is not necessarily a symptom of depression. Beyond this, even it were “depression,” minor depression can be healthy. From a psychological perspective, one of the hardest things to do is to initiate change in your life. Dissatisfaction with your lot in life is one of the best ways to initiate change.

Additionally, this poster claims that you should see the homeless people in NYC and take comfort in the fact that you aren’t one of them. Simply not being in the worst possible position doesn’t mean you should be happy with your life, or even accepting. It’s perfectly normal, and natural, to be upset at your position in life.

Sadly, this is even more of a commentary on blogging. Just because someone uses a public forum such as a blog to express opinions on their own life, doesn’t mean that they should be subjected to the anonymous criticism of others. My friend asked for the name, and the person simply said, trust me, you don’t know me. I don’t mind criticism here, and in fact I welcome it. Yet I find it hard to give credence to advice that comes under a shroud of anonymity. Even if the person uses an alias, generally these are people who also keep blogs and so I can understand the perspective they are coming from. Without some foundation from which to understand these views, I cannot see adopting or supporting these views.

Comment by David Giacalone [editor of ethicalEsqf/k/a]:


I had a far different reaction to the quotation you set out in this post.  I found myself nodding in agreement as I read it and hoping that your weblogger friend pays attention to the advice.

quill pen neg The Anonymous Commentor wasn’t making a clinical diagnosis of depression, but was emphasizing that your friend’s attitude is depressing to himself and for those around him — and that self-pity is a very good way to make yourself depressed.  Depression can be a great spur to re-thinking your priorities, but while in its throes, almost no positive steps are really possible.
Far from saying that your friend should be content with his life because the homeless of NYC have it so much worse, the Anonymous Commentor is saying that NY’s homeless may have the right to feel totally miserable, but your friend has too much going for himself to allow himself the luxury of self-pity and whining.
You may be right that “It’s perfectly normal, and natural, to be upset at your position in life,” but it is not at all healthy, wise or helpful.  Being “upset” doesn’t help one’s situation, and complaining is not the opposite of accepting.
graph up The Commentator has a very positive message for your friend, and for any one else who is dismayed over life’s setbacks and needs to face a negative situation and ask if his or her priorities are wise and expectations realistic — and what can and should be done differently to reach worthwhile, realistic goals.

Also, I don’t at all see this episode as a negative reflection on weblogging.  In fact, I think it’s great that your friend could get such good advice for free, from someone who cared enough to take the time to submit a lengthy, thoughtful response.  If the Commentor had merely said what others might have been thinking — “stop whining, you immature whimp” — your criticism would have some validity.  [Of course, if the weblog is filled with self-pitying accounts of personal travails, the audience is almost certainly miniscule.]

masks Being anonymous is not necessarily a negative either.  We never really know where anyone is “coming from.”  The Commentor’s age or politics or station in life have very little relevance to the value of what is being said — although I bet he or she has already lived through hard times and losses and learned some useful lessons.

Some of the wisest things ever said or passed on through the ages have been anonymous.  Perhaps the Commentor is someone who is well-known in the blogosphere and doesn’t want to add the weight of that authority to his or her statements — but wants them to stand on their own.

If a weblogger only wants positive feedback and sympathy, I suggest turning off the Comment function and paying someone to echo his or her sentiments.  If a weblogger is going to subject his audience to complaints about his life, he should be ready to get advice he might not want to hear.  It is not negative criticism to tell someone “you’re looking at this in a self-defeating way” or “here’s a perspective that might be more helpful.”

Maybe you know all this, and were just trying to get your audience to remind themselves.

Thanks for lending me your soapbox.

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