Having a blog is weird.
Five days a week I open up my life to the eyes of perfect strangers. Anyone in world who wants to can read what I think, what I love, what I fear. Isn't that just about the weirdest, stupidest thing you've ever heard of? And yet I keep doing it. Day in and day out, I allow my most private doings to be publicized.
With living a "public" life, comes a certain amount of criticism. It makes sense that some will disapprove of what I say or think or do and criticize me for it.
There are a couple of lines that I often hear in regards to negative blog comments that I used to believe that I don't anymore. The first line is, "Don't worry about what that person said! They are just a jealous hater." I used to find comfort in hearing this, but I don't anymore. Mostly because it's not true. I don't think that anyone who criticizes is automatically "jealous." I realized that disregarding any negative comment as just being some "negative hater" didn't allow me to progress or grow at all. It mostly just fed my own narcissim. "She doesn't like me? She's jealous!" No. She doesn't like me because I said something offensive, was insensitive in my blog post, or did something I shouldn't have.
The second line that I don't believe anymore is, "If someone doesn't like your blog they should just click out of it! Why leave a negative comment? Just go away and don't visit anymore!" I get that idea to some extent, but at the same time, how am I ever going to improve if no one ever gives me suggestions for improvement? A huge part of my job as a teacher involves my principal observing my teaching and then giving me critical feedback. Also known as... criticism! Shouldn't I welcome criticism in my blogging profession as well? (Given, my principal is much more kind with his criticism than many blog and gomi commenters.) I also think there can be people who like many parts of my blog, but are maybe bothered or offended by one aspect of it. That doesn't mean they should just "go away and never come back", but they are welcome to leave honest feedback that they believe would make them enjoy the blog more.
Of course there are limits. Not all criticism is healthy, and its crucial to be able to discern between the helpful and the hurtful. Today I'm going to look at how I have dealt with three different types of criticism 1) The ridiculous criticism 2) The offensive and hurtful criticism and 3) The healthy criticism.
(All criticism that I will be talking about today has come comments that readers leave directly on my blog posts, (This post and this post have lots of mean comments. I also kind of deserved them.) anonymous comments on a site directed toward blog criticism called getoffmyinternets, (abbreviated from here on out as gomi.) and from friends and family. These three sources are very different, but they have all allowed me to be a better blogger and even a better person. The criticism from people who love me is the most helpful. I know these people genuinely care about me and are sincere and concerned when they give feedback.)
THE RIDICULOUS CRITICISM
HOW I DEAL WITH IT: LAUGH AT IT
1. I once wrote a post about how I tricked Greg into letting me cut my hair short. He likes it long so I gradually cut it shorter and shorter in hopes it wouldn't seem too drastic to him. An anonymous commenter said about it on gomi, "And I'm done. I'm not interested in the life of anyone who lets their husband dictate what they can do with their damn hair. Ridiculous." At first I was hurt by this, but then I realized how little this person knew about my own marriage or the innerworkings of my relationship. Greg (no offense, babe) dictates very little of what I do. The comment was absurd and didn't apply. One nightt my friend, Mandy, was over and she was yelling at the top of her longs in a low, gruff voice "Don't let your husband dictate your damn hair!!!" And we laughed and laughed.
2. A commenter on gomi once complained that I put a comma in the wrong place. I laughed. If that is honestly the worst thing they can think of to complain about, then I guess life is pretty dang good, huh?
3. "Her selfies are seriously unfortunate." HA! Ya got me there, I don't take no sexy selfies.
4. "How does one manage to become an English teacher without ever learning the meaning of the word "fortnight"?" This is another comment I like to make fun of in stupid voices with my friends. Usually it's a drawn out British accent, a la Downton Abbey. "You don't know what fortnight means?!? My darling, how will you ever get a job? That is such a useful and common word- oh you must be a true idiot! What do we do with you? There's no way you're qualified to teach high school English, why, that's just out of the question!"
5. A comment about the below picture read: "this picture is terrifying…I see a woman who is going to eat a baby with a taco salad side and then steal some souls."
My response was to share it with my blog readers and all laugh together. The comment was hilarious, it deserved a public laughing. And yes, I will eat your baby if you don't give me my Cafe Rio salad right this second.
THE HURTFUL OR OFFENSIVE CRITICISM
HOW I DEAL WITH IT: IGNORE IT
1. "Also, if you really want to rage, read about her mission trip. I'm not religious at all so stories about someone CRYING because the impoverished migrant farmer in Argentina didn't buy your pitch and chose his family and friends over The Mormon Church made me laugh and then cry for humanity." This comment was extremely hurtful to me. I poured my heart and soul into my mission.. I don't think any stranger has a right to come in and criticize what I did there or make fun of me for crying while in Argentina. I don't care if you're religious or not, to me that's just disrespectful. But no reason to stew on this one. I had to ignore it and realize that what this person thought of my 18 months in Argentina has no effect on who I am as a person or my life. Move on.
2. "I just can't fathom her being a good teacher. The cool teacher that tweets with you and lets you get away with everything? Sure. An actual GOOD teacher who challenges you and helps you grow? I doubt it." Again, this is the kind of comment that just hurts. I had to sit and reevaluate for a minute. It didn't take longer than that minute, though, to realize that the comment wasn't grounded in truth at all. I don't let my kids get away with everything. Or anything, for that matter. I am strict and structured in my classroom. I watch them like hawks. I can't say for certainty that I'm successful, but I do try my damndest to challenge them and help them grow. I do everything I can to keep them engaged. Students often tell me they enjoy my class and that they learn a lot. We don't waste time. I know that I give 100% to my job. So I can ignore the comment- it has no truth to it.
3. Some criticism is directed toward my religion or toward Mormons in general. That is definitely best ignored. One commenter said something mean about Greg, who certainly never asked to be on my blog. To me, attacking a blogger's family or religion is disrespectful and tasteless. BUT. There's nothing I can do about it. People are welcome to say whatever tasteless or inappropriate things they feel like, so I have had to learn to just completely ignore comments such as these.
THE HEALTHY CRITICISM
HOW I DEAL WITH IT: LEARN FROM IT
1. I have had many commenters on my blog, on gomi, and friends and family who have expressed concern over what I have posted about work/ school. This is what I get the most concern over, and understandably so. I have posted stuff that was probably not my right to post. Because of this criticism I have made changes and have started being extremely careful with what I say about school. I have never used a student's real name in a post, but I realized that this wasn't good enough and I couldn't tell specific stories about specific students. I used to post pictures of students on my blog. I have since gotten written permission slips for any student pictures I use, and even now I mostly use old pictures of students who have graduated just to be extra careful. I don't mention coworkers without permission and when I talk about school, I just have to do it in much more vague or sweeping terms. I do miss being able to really describe what it is like here in this jungle of a high school, but I realized that it was unfair to my students, their parents, and my coworkers when I wrote about them on my blog like that. So I stopped. (This line I still struggle with and probably always will...)
2. "RARELY, do I see Bonnie using happy and great things about her students. It's usually just complaining." This comment, while initially biting, was extremely helpful to me. Mostly because I don't think I complain about my students very much, and if I do, I try to do it in a fun, playful way. But obviously I wasn't coming off that way. If I am coming across as someone who hates her students and is just always annoyed with them, then I'm not presenting myself accurately. I don't think one of my students would say this about me, so this is my own fault that I am writing about them in a way that would make others think that that's how I felt about them. I still joke and make fun of my students a lot, (some of the gold that comes out of their mouths is too good not to!) but I make more of a concentrated effort to show how much I enjoy teaching. Because I do. I absolutely love this job and want to convey that in my writing.
3. One commenter said somewhere that it made her cringe when I called Greg "Hubs". I thought about it. So, for a few posts I started referring to Greg as Greg. I liked it. It felt more sincere. So I sent "hubs" to the curb. Easy enough.
4. A very helpful comment was from someone who said that I didn't respond to comments very often. That person was absolutely right. I am terrible at responding to all of the above: phone calls, texts, emails, comments, ETC. I hate this about myself and am trying to be better. As far as the blog comments go, though, I guess I didn't realize that blog commenters would even care if I had responded or not. Obviously they did. I definitely still don't respond to all comments, but I have made a concentrated effort to respond to certain posts, especially ones that are more discussion based. I also always try to make an effort to respond to direct questions. I have built great relationships from these responses and have been able to much better connect with my audience. I am so grateful to that one commenter who took the time to tell me that I need to step it up with my responses. It has made a huge difference for me.
5. Probably the most helpful criticism has come from friends and family who have been hurt by how I have portrayed them on my blog. I have had to realize that the way I see something is not how others see something and that I must be very careful in how I talk about the people who are constantly coming in and out of my life. I try to represnt all people in the story fairly. I have learned to ask permission before telling certain stories or posting pictures, especially of my friends' kids. If I talk specifically about marriage or my relationship with Greg, he has asked me to let him read it first. There have been times he has read something and then told me he wasn't comfortable posting it. I learned this only after I had hurt him by posting something that wasn't my right to post. I once had a friend tell me that she felt like I was using her as "blog fodder". This was hurtful, and while I didn't think I was doing this, I obviously was making her feel that way. So I stopped.
There's kind of this idea out there that critics just exist to tear other people down, but I don't believe that at all. It is through healthy criticism that I feel like I have been able to really progress as a writer, blogger, and even as a human being. Through learning to accept blog criticism, I have been able to be more open to criticism in general. I try to not let my first response be to get defensive or immediately start explaining myself. It's not easy, but it gets easier.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Any suggestions/ stories you have about dealing with criticism? And because I am so good at taking all criticism to heart I WILL be replying to all comments on this post. Huzzah!
(P.S. If you agree with or like this post I would love it if you would share it. THANK YOU!)