It is so easy to criticize and vent these days. Snark has developed into its own art form. You probably are inundated with it in your daily Facebook and Twitter feeds. It is always tempting to join in, and complain or take cheap shots at others. For example, a GOP staffer recently wrote a pretty nasty post about President Obama’s daughters who were rolling their eyes a bit as their Dad went through the ceremonial Turkey Pardon. (Feel free to take a look at the article, but basically it comes down to the girls looking less than fully thrilled to be there for this event, which may have been fun the first time, but after 6 years in a row, is probably tiresome for everyone involved.)
Let’s take a few brief moments to deconstruct this issue. Firstly, the annual Turkey Pardon is a silly tradition, but it’s become an expectation. I think many Americans do a collective eyeroll at this, so why should the first daughters be any different? Secondly, taking a shot at teens so you can also take a cheap shot at the parents is simply unacceptable behavior, regardless of whether or not they are public figures.
This same sort of snark and unnecessary criticism pervades social media and the way people interact these days. The news and every magazine at the checkout stand is filled with comparisons of who wore what dress best, who looked less than fully glamourous at what event, and who decided what undergarments to wear or forego. I ask you- why is any of this even slightly worth the ink and time we waste on it?
Critique is supposed to be a detailed analysis or evaluation of a situation; ideally it should be accompanied by suggestions on how to improve a situation or avoid any mistakes in the future. Critique as a sport has a mean underside, making the receiver feel diminished or less than. Perhaps my current sensitivity to this is because I just finished running for office, and the past weeks have been filled with low level fault finding and analysis of what to do differently. This process can be incredibly helpful, but it can also be incredibly painful. The non-helpful, just mean-spirited “What were you thinking when you wore THAT?” sort of critique just gets under my skin right now, because it seems like an audience throwing things at a performer. Being critical is easy, but actually putting yourself out there on a public stage takes guts, and there are consequences whether you win or lose, that the audience doesn’t have to deal with when it goes home.
Edutopia frequently posts an acronym I think we all need to remember before we shell out criticism to anyone in our lives: THINK
- Is it True?
- Is it Helpful?
- Is it Inspiring?
- Is it Necessary?
- Is it Kind?
The kind of criticism doled out by this particular GOP staffer I would argue is really none of the above, although she might think it was a “helpful” reminder to these young ladies that they are on the public stage, all the time. But until this staffer wants to take that kind of critique every day herself, maybe she should keep her thoughts to herself. My critique here is meant to be helpful and a reminder that we need to start with kindness.
Listen, we all have those thoughts. The “What was that fashion choice about?” or a “I cannot believe they thought that was a good plan” moment. Many times a day in fact- I have teenagers in the house. I think a lot of things that are not always reflective of my best self, and I try, sometimes unsuccessfully, to keep that crap to myself. No one ever appreciates the “I could have told you that” response to a mistake.
Instead, when there has been a particular moment that makes you want to slam your head against your desk and cry, I am making an effort to try to look for ways to fix the problem rather than heap a ton of “What were you thinking?” venting on top of what’s already a bad situation. Number one, the venting doesn’t really make me feel better, and it always makes the other person, already in a scrape, feel much worse. In fact, this sort of reaction is the main reason teens don’t tell their parents 75% of trouble they face- they don’t want to see that look in your eye or deal with the lectures. Dealing with the problem itself, and finding ways to solve it, together, allows everyone to keep their dignity while learning lessons at the same time.
I come from a family of yellers. Learning not to yell, not to vent, is really hard, and I don’t always succeed. I have a temper. But I know it’s not okay to do this stuff, and I also apologize to my kids afterwards, so we can try to make it better. I’m not perfect, and they need to know that even adults screw up, and can admit it when they do. It took me a very long time to realize that the yelling might feel like releasing frustration to me, but the receiver just felt punched in the gut. That moment of outrage was not worth even a second of the pain I caused my kids, even if it was done in service of some sort of lesson. There are simply better ways of handling and dealing with anger.
The next time we’re tempted to make some unkind remark, especially online, about someone else, let’s try to remember that they are human, and try to start with kindness. If we can build kindness as a habit, we’ll all be much better off than making our default setting one of snark and ennui. No one needs more of that.