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Making better comments and criticisms

Conrad Frommelt urges readers to act in respect and consideration of writers when commenting on articles. | Illustration by David Rhee/THE CHIMES

 

“This is without a doubt the dumbest article I've ever read. The purpose of driving a truck is not to dominate the road, or endanger the lives of the other drivers (as you seem to believe). Speeding, flattening other cars, and being able to “broadside" whatever gets in your way and "bounce away" mostly intact; are very nice examples of being a huge prick. In fact the sensations you describe feeling while driving the truck could likely be described as sociopathic. It's nice to finally read an opinion piece advocating total disregard of the value of human life and reckless driving with no respect for the safety of others. In closing I pray to God that myself or those I love never have to share the road with you, and I hope you are never able to drive a truck again.”       

Someone who called themselves “Poon Tang” had this to say about an article I wrote, “Why we cannot all drive death machines.” Honestly, it devastated my confidence as a writer, hurt my heart, and made me consider quitting my job. Even now, as I re-read the article I think my sarcasm comes across clearly. I hear my obvious playfulness and dry humor scream through. Yes, I talk about running into other cars, but I do not actually intend to do it.     

But this comment, added to the handful of inappropriate, biting or discouraging comments I receive each week, has started me thinking. What does the person who called me a huge prick and a sociopath hope to accomplish? Perhaps if they make me feel badly enough about myself I will apologize to all truck drivers everywhere and stop all my traffic shenanigans.

THE FINE LINE BETWEEN FEEDBACK AND CRUELTY

Online comments are one thing, but berating myself or my authors as we go about our lives around campus is harassment. Again, we delight in your feedback given in the appropriate way and at the appropriate time. We have a comment feed and an email on each of our articles for a reason; use those to get in contact with us.

I genuinely enjoy responding to thoughtful comments and engaging with the larger community about complex and often painful issues. In fact, my writing team and I spend seemingly countless hours working on our arguments and carefully picking words to make our pieces honest, productive and fair. The fact that you disagree with what I or one of my staff has written excites me. Maybe I am wrong, and if so this presents an opportunity for me to grow. I have blind spots that require a community to help me see.

Because we spend so much time crafting our articles, cruel or sloppy comments feel like my staff and I are being spit on. Often, my writers and I model vulnerability and honest — though sometimes misguided —truth searching. To be publically ridiculed, not respectfully challenged on an idea, is excruciating. Sure, people have strong feelings about the topics we speak about and yes we could grow a thicker skin, but I do not believe we need to do the adjusting here.

It is the cruel commenters who need to change.

If, which I believe to be the case, our campus really wants intentional conversation about uncomfortable truths, we have to be willing to be kind, receptive conversation partners. We, the writers, can only be spit on and slapped for so long before we lose our courage. Kind readers, we fragile humans need your care, not your thoughtlessness. So please, continue reading our work and we earnestly hope for your interaction with it.

Your Turn.  Post a Comment

  1. jerry lewis

    I'm not surprised at your discovery that it's likely that when you put yourself out there, some commentors will indulge in meanness and cruelty far beyond the bounds of even the most pointed criticism.

    As the talking-exploding heads of the anti-gay organizations have found out, the thing worse than being flamed upon, is being ignored. October 9, 2014

  2. Jay Leno

    First off, did you look up what "poontang" meant before you decided to put it in your public, Christian article? Maybe do that. Also, if your article evoked emotion in someone, who are you to say that that emotion is wrong or inappropriate? And through an open comment section, why not post that emotion? I also read your big trucks article. I'm sorry but if you were trying to convey sarcasm, you severely sucked at it. That entire article I was thinking "who is this guy and why is he making these feelings public? He sounds crazy." I also read your other piece on the opinion section. How about you give your opinion then instead of making the whole article about you? How are we supposed to engage with criticism if you are the only thing the entire article talks about? Yea, I understand not outright hating someone for their opinion, or not putting them down as a human. But, someone can have an opinion on your ability as a writer, and if they voice it, take it and do two things. Learn from it, see where they are coming from, see if you can change, or you can quit, stop writing, and they win. Don't put yourself in the public eye if you can't handle the reaction. October 9, 2014

  3. jerry lewis

    "Jay," above, is Christian. October 9, 2014

  4. Miranda Paul

    "Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, haate. I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shaake! Shake it offff, shake it offf" :) Don't listen to the grumpy haters, remember those of us who love and support you! Thank you for this vulnerable and honest article. It models a quality that we all need to practice more in voicing our hurts and practicing forgiveness. October 11, 2014

  5. James

    Conrad,

    I understand where you are coming from brother and it is a dark side of anonymity on the internet. There's no name to hold a person accountable to their comments. This can be a wonderful positive to share opinion. On the other hand, it empowers trolls. I know you, among many other writers, care about how your articles are received, but you can't please everyone and inevitably, if you put yourself out there with your opinion there will be trolls and you will receive push back. So, I would encourage you to not think too into the mean spirited comments or personal attacks, take reader comments with a grain of salt. Trolls will be trolls and that's just how it is. Look for well meaning constructive comments and grow from those and don't focus on the mean spirited ones -they will drag you down. Blessings brother. #hatersgonnahate October 11, 2014

  6. Derek Chamberlain

    Having driven everything from 35ft school buses to a Ford Focus, I believe I know a thing or 2 when it comes to driving big vehicles. They are NOT like driving a car! Things like tail swing, wheelbase and turning radius, increased following and braking distances, larger blind spots, and vertical overhead clearances have to be considered. "Broadsiding whatever gets in your way" is unacceptable. You are driving a suit of armor. It is your job to let nothing penetrate the protective space cushion you have around your vehicle.

    "Trucks carry too much weight and bulk to stop when other cars get in your way, they just kind of keep going." No they do not. As a professional driver of a large vehicle, you are expected to drive defensively at all times.

    Unsafe driving makes my blood boil. It is as much in the mental cognizance as it is the physical dexterity. I agree with "Poon Tang" and will boldy agree that I, too hope the author never drives a large vehicle again. Leave it to the professionals. October 11, 2014

  7. jerry lewis

    Derek, I'm thinking it makes sense that you don't appreciate creative writing, or even recognize it when you're reading it. October 12, 2014

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