Being selective with criticism and the prevalence of fallacies

I've considered the role of critics over the past few years, with my perspective shifting from them serving a role as an unbiased fresh set of eyes, capable of providing feedback that the maker may have not considered, to considering them nothing more than judgemental cowards, individuals too afraid to put themselves out there, 

Though these are two opposite extremes, I seem to be finally settling somewhere in the middle, sharing Brene Brown's perspective outlined in her 99u presentation embedded below : 


Now, being provided with constructive feedback which consists of an informed position and which is justified by its administrator and expressed in a way which allows civil rapport on the subject is highly desirable and even essential in some cases. 

The issue is that most comments, especially in the online world, are not structured in this way. In fact most are fallacies, specifically argumentum ad hominem based attacks, where the speaker is criticized for perceived features which have nothing to do with the message expressed. These types of attacks aim to disprove the statements of the presenter by shifting the focus to their apparent characteristics and using such a criticism to discredit their message. This is great disservice to not only the presenter, as they are being criticized on unrelated matters (and often with unjustified vitriol), but to the recipients of the information as well. If one is too busy focusing on the messenger, one is avoiding the message which may actually contain useful and thought-provoking information. 

Brown's current solution appears to be a deliberate dismissal of such criticism, with her stating that, unless these people are in the same industry or are somehow privy to the same experiences as the presenter, then their feedback will be ignored. 

I partially agree with this concept as it is quite easy to be an armchair critic, never placing yourself in the highly vulnerable position of sharing your creations and just shooting down everything. It is quite a useless position to hold actually. Simultaneously, one must try to not be completely absolute on the matter, as an opinion from someone who may not have been in your position, but may have experienced something similar, could potentially be valuable. 

So what's the solution you may be hypothetically asking? Well I've prepared a little list of points below which has helped me become a better arguer so you could check that out : 

  1. Firstly, civility should be something that we all attempt to maintain one way or the other. Consider that whoever you're about to respond to is an individual human being, with their own thoughts, ideas and perspectives and with their own life and problems. Would you insult a stranger on the street? Would you threaten such a stranger with rape or murder? Avoid doing it online :) 
  2. Be aware of fallacies. There is a very thorough list here. Now, I'm not suggesting to go out and memorize that list and double-check everything that you're about to say just in case. No, we are human and we err. But familiarize yourself with the basic and most common ones such as the aforementioned ad hominem attacks. Other common ones are argumentum ad ignorantiam (assuming a claim is true because it hasn't or cannot be proven false - popular with religious arguments) and affirming the consequent (If P then Q. Q. Thefore P). Awareness of these fallacies usually leads to their avoidance and tends to stimulate more constructive conversations. 
  3. Try to employ some empathy when viewing something. Imagine yourself in that person's shoes administering that speech, or performing that song and try to feel the vulnerability there. Most people in that situation are passionate about what they have created and they want to share it with you because they probably believe that it has some value. That is a difficult thing to do, so try to be aware of that and not contribute to the usually unnecessary bundle of hate bubbling in the comments. 
  4. Make something. Anything. Write a song, a story, a poem. Draw something. By engaging in such activities, you will be privy to the difficulty associated with tapping into what's within and manifesting it in a shareable form. Bear in mind that hateful comments are easy to manufacture. Their propagation is effortless. Creating something from scratch is much harder but at the same time, it is one of the most rewarding things you can experience. It facilitates inner reflection and both cognitive and spiritual development. 
  5. If you are outraged by a perspective, or if you believe that your sensibilities and/or beliefs have been insulted then pay more attention to the message that caused this outrage. There's nothing wrong with questioning or changing your beliefs if those no longer represent you. In fact, one should welcome alternate perspectives and arguments and want to be convinced otherwise. It facilitates the creation of more spherical and informed perspectives.

As previously mentioned, these are things which I have employed in my own life over the past decade or so. I feel like a better and more mature individual that how I was back then due to simply trying to be a bit more aware of things. 

As I've stated in previous podcasts, I think we need more creativity out there. Interesting solutions and contributions from pretty much everyone. By being aware of the inherent difficulties and engaging in making things, you would be contributing to a better, more understanding and more connected world. You have access to the same tools as some of the best creative and artistic individuals out there, whether it is via subscription based teaching schools or through the countless How-To youtube videos. 

Maybe it's time that all that hate was channelled into making something better :) 

-Andreas Kopriva 2014

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