Take a breath

Have you ever seen something that someone else made that you just hated? What happened next? Did you rush to Facebook or Twitter to share your disdain with the world?

I know I have.

See, I try to live as a kind and considerate person—so I hate to admit that I have that side to me. And it’s probably always been there. But in the pre-Internet past, it would have only manifested as some silent quips to myself in my head.

I want to be a better person and, just as importantly, I want to be a better member of our community. And I want you to be, too.

So here’s my advice to both of us—to you, and to me: let’s take a breath.

Our pithy remarks can wait at least that long. What’s more, that time might give us a chance to reconsider posting something negative about someone personally or their work just because we weren’t consulted. In other words: let’s not just react. Instead, let’s take a moment to try to understand what’s in front of us, before we speak up. There’s a reason we don’t ask people to create an opinion. We ask them to form an opinion, because that formation takes time and consideration.

An immediate thought that pops into our heads when we first see something is rarely considered, full formed, or hell, even what we really think. It’s often just a reaction to stimuli. That stimulus doesn’t require us to reply with an opinion. Oddly enough, none of us actually need to have an opinion on every occurrence, and certainly not a knee-jerk reaction masquerading as a thoughtful point of view. The Internet has already reached peak snark.

What’s more, critique is not synonymous with “being mean.” It’s not an opportunity to show how smart you are. Thoughtful feedback doesn’t include the words “meh” and “fail,” or begin with “Isn’t in ironic that….”

Critique is about growing. As Leah Reich so thoughtfully wrote in The Uncanny Valley of Earnestness:

Criticism is not negativity. Criticism is not saying you’re bad. Criticism is – it should be – a way of saying: I think you’re good. I know you can do better. I think you can figure out a way how.

I wonder if the speed and accessibility of our social tools can sometimes make us aggressive, even antisocial. Maybe we’re forgetting there are people behind those avatars and usernames. People who work hard and care deeply about what they do. People like you and like me. And as we all know, we’re rarely working under ideal conditions, timelines, or constraints.

The worst part is that this low-level snark falls between the couch cushions of Wheaton’s Law. Most of us aren’t dicks. Most of us aren’t trolls. But there are times when any of us can be sloppy, impatient, or distracted communicators. An inadequate venue for critique, whether in person or in 140 characters, only makes things worse.

There is plenty of room for strong words and tough love in critique, but never for insult or snark. There is a time to appreciate or bemoan work, but it’s usually not the moment just after you’re first exposed to something.

We’ve all probably heard the phrase “haters gonna hate.” We console ourselves and each other with it when the tide turns against us. We wear it like a badge of courage because, well, what’s the alternative? I wish we could throw as much support into an opposite movement. We speak up loudly when we dislike something but don’t always say enough when we love something.

A measure I often use for myself when reflecting on any given day is: did I put more positivity into the world today than negativity?

So, let’s take a breath. And let’s spend a bit more time making well-formed thoughts before speaking our mind. We’re all doing our best out here.

Revised and adapted from my presentation during CreativeMornings’ 5th Birthday celebration.

This piece originally appeared on The Pastry Box Project.