The hammerhead of Criticism.
And the responsibility that comes from wielding it.
I was recently speaking to a young Arts Critic who was working on a review of a big blockbuster movie. She related the conversation she had with her editor. The movie was already a big hit and my friend the critic had written what in her opinion was a pretty harsh takedown. While she was convinced of her views on the film, she was feeling bad for the director and other members of the crew. The editor hearing this said to her: Don’t worry, my friend, they will survive your criticism. Said obviously half in jest and maybe a touch of sarcasm.
My friend went ahead with her review. But she still felt bad about it. Notwithstanding the money made by the crew and her lack of influence on that, she did feel that her criticism in some way is an attack on the hard work of the crew. But she had a bigger question. Now this was a mainstream blockbuster. What about an independent film? Made with passion and love by a bunch of dedicated folks. Who have shed blood, sweat and tears to bring their vision to life? What happens when you think the net result is trash? As a critic, do you still go ahead and savage it?
I have oftentimes wondered about the impact of negativity on founders. Every founder I know is passionate about the problem she has chosen to solve. She is dedicated, sincere, hardworking to a fault and very sensitive to harsh criticism on her product. Now, unlike my friend, the art critic – who is paid to do a job – most of us speak about the products and services we use either as consumers or as observers. And of course, that is well within our right. However, I do see a ton of negativity and harshness on social media. I rarely mind when it is directed at corporates – the equivalent of the big mainstream movie makers in my example. But the independents, the ones who wear their hearts on their sleeves, the ones who are driven by a primary impulse to make the world a better place – do they deserve unbridled, harsh words?
Criticism and negativity on social media are attention magnets. Savage takedowns get more likes than gentle appreciation. I guess that’s now an established fact. But the damage this does to people is immense. Harsh words and intemperate language hurts and wounds deeply. Especially when the target is a founder who is struggling against all odds to build a business. But then everyone has a right to an opinion, right?
I guess like all things in life, it boils down to the choices each of us want to make. I have chosen to be positive and optimistic when it comes to founder driven businesses. To give them the benefit of doubt. To allow them extra margin of belief. To show disappointment, not anger. To be kind and graceful at all times.
And what happens when I have specific product feedback? For a company or a founder, I care for? I just write to the founder. Either on one of the social platforms or directly if I know the person. Every single founder I have worked with has one thing in common. She is product obsessed. And even if she doesn’t respond, I know that she has heard my feedback and will do something about it.
Next time, I meet my art critic friend, I will tell her that I understand her dilemma. And that while she is paid to write an opinion, it is perfectly all right if she feels compassion and empathy. Especially for independent artists and filmmakers who need a bit more support, a bit more affection. Speak the truth, I would tell her, speak the truth by all means but do it gently, persuasively, with grace and with an awareness of the human beings listening to it.