This is a long post that has to do with blogging – not really knitting – and there are no pictures. You’ve been forewarned.
The other day, after receiving a not so nice comment, reading this article, and hearing from blogger friends who had been abused in comments and blog posts recently, I came up with a BRILLIANT IDEA! I sent out this email:
BRING IT ON! An Experiment in Blogging
Dear Friends and Fellow Bloggers,
I hope this email finds you happy and arms full of yarn. So – I’ve had a CRAZY idea. I know, you’re shaking your heads, but this one is even CRAZIER than usual and I’d love to hear your opinions.
I’m thinking of a BRING IT ON day on the blogs – or at least MY blog. Lately I’ve had some not so nice comments – both on the blog and behind the scenes – directed at me and my life and coupled with the article that appeared in the New York Times the other day, I thought that it would be really really interesting to just see the comments fly. I’m proposing a 24 hour period where people could leave, in the comments, the best criticsm they could come up with for me. I would set some ground rules – nothing about my family or religion or stuff like that – just about ME. I would ask them to stick to what they’ve seen or read on the blog – or if they’ve met me in person – but it’s okay if they don’t stick to it. And I would welcome anonymous comments.
What do you think would happen? Would I need to be in therapy for another fifteen years? Would friendships be lost? Or would all the negativity cancel itself out and eventually, reading all those awful comments, people would see how stupid it really is. That the adage – if you don’t have anything nice to say – don’t say anything at all – really DOES make the world a better place.
I just hatched this idea. But I think it could be extremely interesting, probably very hurtful, most likely entertaining and hopefully a learning experience for all involved – bloggers and commenters alike. I’d like to think I’d be putting my money where my mouth is – but maybe I really have knit one too many miters.
I look forward to hearing from you!
Have a fantastic day!
One by one, people responded back and were overwhelmingly negative about my proposal – with some very good reasons. It would probably devolve into silliness – like a sixth grade slam book with comments about how my feet were ugly and my breath bad. Or that I’d actually be overwhelmed with POSITIVE comments instead of negative. Or that it would truly get very, very ugly and I might not be able to recover from it. That when the 24 hr period ended, I’d get even more badness for closing it down. I thought, the worst that could happen is that I would take down the blog. And I don’t want to take down the blog.
I needed to further examine what I wanted from this experiment. Did I want constructive criticism? Not really. I’m plenty critical of my life and I have a VERY honest husband and family who tell it to me like it is, not to mention an excellent friend who’s ready to call me on all aspects of my life. I often call Ann and ask her if I’m being ridiculous about something – and she always lets me know how she really feels. Honesty is a fantastic gift in my life, even if the criticism is sometimes hard to hear. But there’s a difference between criticism delivered safely, lovingly, RESPECTFULLY as opposed to just dumped in your lap without regard. You catch more flies with honey than you do with shit.
Speaking of shit, I was working with an analogy when I came up with this experiment. I thought, if I fill the room with shit – here I’m talking about the comments – and people really really let me have it – let out all the petty jealousies, the legitimate gripes, the suggestions on how to make my world better, i.e. more like THEIR world – well then, in the end all the badness might cancel itself out. Like if you fill the room with shit – eventually you’re not going to smell it anymore. You know what I mean?
If your blog has more than one reader (who’s not your mom – or maybe it is your mom?) chances are someone’s thought ill of you. Either they thought your knitting skills sucked. Your design was a rip off. They could DEFINITELY do better than you. I would assume that the more readers you have, the more that negative number rises. I’m no saint here – of course I’ve thought (and even said) not so nice things about other people – even other bloggers – but I’ve never deliberately gone out of my way to make someone feel bad in public. Whether on my site or someone else’s site or on their own site. In fact, I try to adhere to a strict policy of never saying anything negative about anyone in emails, let alone blogs. Does this make me a hypocrite? Sure! I can think it! But do I have the balls to put it out there?!? I’m not sure it has anything to do with balls. I think it has to do with thought and action. We can think many many negative things all day long, but it’s acting on those thoughts that really says who we are. At least that’s how I think about it. I’m not above petty jealousies. I’m not above lashing out if I think someone I love has been hurt. I’m not above idle gossip. Please. I’m a human being. But I don’t think those are the types of things I want lasting forever – like emails or blog posts. They’re not constructive. They don’t help anyone (but maybe me for like five minutes and then oftentimes I feel guilty.) And they don’t do anything to change a situation.
While I was thinking about this grand sociological experiment and how it could or could not work, I started thinking about what motivates people to be so mean. I’m sure you’ve all heard about the Kathy Sierra incident – a blogger started getting death threats and horrid pictures of her were photoshopped – for instance, a photo of her with a noose nearby – and posted on a blog that seemed to exist only to bash other bloggers. What could she possibly have written to garner such meaness? What makes people be so mean? [Read the NYTs article above and this link I found through MJ. Thanks MJ!]
I can only speak to knitblogs because that’s really all I read – so let’s talk about them. We’ve all seen blogs that seem to exist to denigrate other knitters. They’re equal opportunity haters too – designers, bloggers, new knitters, old knitters, knitters who knit with one hand, two hands, their feet – whatever – everything’s game! I guess a blog like this serves a purpose – on those days that you just hate the world and want to revel in that hate, it’s sometimes nice to go over to a blog like this and join in on all the fun. Although at the end of the day, even when I’m languishing in the hate, it just makes me sad. I still don’t understand what people get out of bashing other people. Most of all, I’m left wondering, why do people care so much? It’s my experience that people don’t do things unless they’re getting something out of it for themselves – it’s rare to find a truly altrustic action. I blog because I want to show off my knits and I love to write and I like to be funny – I get a lot back from it: lots of nice comments, inspiration, new friends. But what do I get back if I trash someone? Do I get to feel superior? Is it going to make my knitting better? Or make me feel better ABOUT my knitting? Anything negative I say about someone else is a reflection on me. What am I so unhappy or upset or unsatisfied with? What can I change ABOUT ME to make my life better?
Let’s set a few things
straight about what I think about criticism: if you want to criticise a knitting book or pattern or blog, that’s perfectly acceptable to me. A designer puts those designs out there and once they’re in the world, you can’t control how people see that design. You have to hope they either love it or hate it – some kind of REAL reaction. If you write a pattern and people start knitting it and it’s full of mistakes and the schematics are all wrong and the actual finished garment is so ridiculously put together that you can’t tell the neck from the elbow, well, then THE PATTERN deserves to be ripped a new one. But not the designer. Wouldn’t it be great if we could talk about the problems with a pattern that would actually HELP the designer write a better one next time? Like some kind of collaboration? Why bring the personal into it?
I’m no stranger to criticism. I graduated from an MFA program in Creative Writing which means for two years I got to sit in a workshop where every week another writer was raked across the coals. I would spend hours and hours writing a story only to have my classmates sit around and talk about all the things that were wrong and bad and awful about that story. If you’ve never been through a critique it’s a wonderful thing! Most of the time, the criticism that was valid was immediately apparent to me and I got really good at throwing out the rest of it, but it’s still hard to hear negative-ness about your babies.
I’ll give you two examples of criticism I recently encountered. One had to do with a knitting project. A comment was left on my blog that basically said, “Well, I’m glad you’re happy with the project. I think I’ll keep my opinion to myself.” (Which in and of itself is kind of ridiculous because duh – the opinion was RIGHT OUT THERE.) I emailed the commenter and said – come on! Let me have it! Tell me what you really think! And she did. What ensued was a very nice conversation about what makes us tick as knitters and what we like and don’t like and it was civilized and THAT’S the kind of criticism I welcome. That same day I got another comment that basically said I was crazy and that all my knitting was a waste of time and I should be out helping people instead of being dirty and sitting on my ass all day making this waste of money blanket. (Incidentally, this commenter later apologized for her comment.)
That one I didn’t like. That one was personal. That one JUDGED ME. When you read someone’s blog, you’re really only getting a teeny tiny glimpse of their life. I share with you what I want to share with you. So maybe I’m out slopping soup at homeless shelters all day long or maybe I’m kicking puppies up and down the street – YOU DON’T KNOW. I would hope that you would judge me by what you read on the page and the way I behave through the rest of blogland without jumping to conclusions about the life you DON’T read about. I know this is a very tall order. We can’t help but draw conclusions – imagine realities that don’t necessarily exist – and pass judgment based on the little knowledge we have. I do it all the time. Once again, I believe it’s part of being human. But we DO have the ability to STOP ourselves and take a step back. In the five minutes you might take to write that scathing comment, take another minute to read it over and really think about what it says. Would you want to receive a comment like that on your blog? What if your friend got a comment like that? What would be your reaction?
And of course, we’re useless when we try to defend ourselves. I put it out there that I don’t shower on a daily basis. So if someone wants to judge me on that fact alone, well there’s nothing I can do. On the flip side, I know all about the arguments of free speech. It’s my blog and I can say whatever the hell I want! Then why are we so upset if someone comes and disagrees with us? Why then does it all fall apart into a “you are censoring me because you don’t agree with me even though I said these awful things about you on my blog!?” I can count many instances where legitimate discussions have collapsed in blog comments because someone, inevitably, writes “IT’S THEIR BLOG – THEY CAN SAY WHAT THEY WANT!” But what you say and put out in the world in your name has consequences. There are real live people sitting at home behind computers reading blogs.
There’s been lots of talk about codes of conduct on blogs and how we should act and decorum and decency and I’ve given a lot of thought to it in the past few days. I know, that were a code of conduct to come about, that I would have a VERY hard time adopting one for my blog. If I did, it would have to be the most lenient code available. Because, honestly, I do believe in free speech. And I do believe in the free exchange of ideas. And I do believe that I deserve to get back what I put out into the world.
And I believe that criticism can be healthy and constructive and very welcome.
If you threaten me, or my family, or steal from me, or destroy my reputation in some way – that’s no longer free speech. Then it becomes a matter of law.
So I’ve written a really long post, but have I really said anything? I’m not sure. But I wanted to put this out there in the knitblog world because I think it’s important. I really do believe that this is a COMMUNITY in the best sense of the word (and world – which is the first word I typed.) I have been fortunate enough to meet A LOT of knitbloggers and I hope to continue to meet more. One of the reasons I keep my blog as intimate and honest as I do is that when I meet a knitblogger I want them to feel as comfortable with me in person as they do when reading the blog. I’m anxious and crazy and I want you to be prepared when you meet me. No surprises. What you read is what you get.
Do I think that anything will change because I wrote this epic essay? That would be pretty narcissistic of me, for sure. Hopefully. Maybe a little. I’ve already seen some nice healing just from the email I sent out. Do I think we should all get along? ABSOLUTELY NOT. There are bloggers (and people) that just aren’t going to be your cup of tea. And that is perfectly acceptable to me. And if you have an opinion – by all means SHARE IT! But use a little common sense and common courtesy. Is it really that hard? Really?
In conclusion (thank god!) I would like to see a wonderful discussion in the comments – like the one that went on the other day at Steph’s. Dig deep and tell me why you think you were mean that time. Were you threatened by something? Jealous of something? (I would think that my petty outbursts are the direct response of envy. I want whatever it is that someone else has – as hard as it is to admit it.) What do you think about a code of conduct? Do we really need rules? Isn’t the Golden One good enough? What do you think would have happened if I HAD openend up the blog to all the negativity I could handle for 24 hours?
I leave you with this quote, found serendipitously while reading the NYT’s obituary for Kurt Vonnegut:
“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ”