Criticism sticks. Compliments slide right off our backs like water off a puffin. (Ducks have had their day.) It’s a sticky substance, like great wads of gum that will bond you to the street if you’re not careful, preventing you from moving forward. It would be easy to say, “Screw the haters!” or “Ignore all criticism!” That’s the type of rhetoric that helps you build an Instagram account with motivational photos, but it’s not great advice. Not everyone who disagrees with you is a hater. Sometimes they are just someone with a different opinion. Discourse in our country died the day we decided that if I disagree with you it means I hate you.
Discourse in our country died the day we decided that if I disagree with you it means I hate you.
And not all criticism is toxic. Some of it is actually good for you. Some feedback is extremely healthy. How do you tell the difference between the poisons and the vitamins? One way is to ask what it cost someone to give you that feedback. The problem right now is that most criticism doesn’t cost the critic anything. I can leave a 1 star review anonymously on Amazon. There’s no proof I read the book. There’s a “Verified Purchase” label that proves someone bought it, but there’s no way to know if I even opened the book. It only took 42 seconds for me to leave a couple of bile filled sentences and then move on with the rest of my day. This is a fairly new phenomenon by the way. A friend once asked me, “Do you want to know what Kurt Vonnegut told me?”
First of all, I would start most of my sentences that way and second, how do you not respond yes, to that? I of course wanted to hear what the famed author had to say. My friend, continued, “Kurt told me that if Mark Twain could have had nameless, faceless people writing reviews of his work on Amazon he would have jumped off a building.” In Twain’s day, it cost something to criticize on a grand scale. You had to be a reporter or a book reviewer. You had to have a platform and platforms were difficult to come by. You might criticize Huckleberry Finn in the comfort of your own home, but you had no way to say something nasty right at the most important point of purchase on the planet, Amazon.
When I wrote advertising for the Home Depot, the point of purchase was one of the most important locations of the entire store. Right by the register is a magical space where people are making final purchase decisions. Twain could have never imagined a world where a stranger could stand by the register and say, “This book sucks!” every time someone tried to buy Tom Sawyer. That’s what a 1 star review next to the buy button on Amazon is doing. The truth is that criticism that cost the critic nothing, is worth nothing.
Criticism that cost the critic nothing, is worth nothing.
That doesn’t mean 1 star reviews are useless. There are some 1 star reviews of my book Start that I agree with. You can tell from their feedback that they have read the entire book and prepared some thoughtful comments. They’re a verified purchaser, sharing their name. The feedback cost them time, the most limited resource of all, and their identity. The angry tweet from a stranger? That’s 140 characters. That costs nothing and is worth nothing. The facebook comment full of hate? That took 10 seconds. That costs nothing and is worth nothing. The backstabbing gossip from a coworker in a breakroom? That costs nothing and is worth nothing. If the feedback costs the critic something, it might be worth something. They might be giving you a gift, instead of just cutting you down. If it costs them nothing though, its value is the same. Move on quickly. Don’t get stuck worrying about nothing.
P.S. If you liked this blog post, you’ll love my new book Do Over. It’s at minimum, 1 bajillion times better than this post.
Read more at Acuff.me: One simple way to figure out which criticism to listen to.