THIS POST IS DEDICATED TO MY MIDDLE SISTER, W. ELLEN E. FLEISCHMANN, A MISSOURI STATE CHAMPION DEBATER, WHOSE BIRTHDAY IS TODAY!
Is all disagreement “negativity”? When did that happen? I DISAGREE, and I am not being “negative,” unless we’re in a debate, in which case my “side” is “con” (as opposed to “pro”).
This issue has arisen in various ways over the last two years or so, since I became a indie author, blogger and online participant. However, in my latest foray into online “conversations,” I engaged in an exchange that has been very disappointing.
An online acquaintance who moderates one of the Facebook groups I belong to has a public website that includes a blog where she often posts reviews. I’ve been following her site and occasionally reading her posts. Otherwise, we don’t know each other.
A bit of background: I don’t usually comment on hers or anyone’s reviews unless one is particularly well-written or I happen to vehemently agree or disagree with it, which was the case, here. This is a public site and she allows for comments.
This reviewer (who shall remain nameless) posted rave comments for the 50 Shades trilogy, including her wish to speak with E.L.James (making it seem as if she had an “author crush” on E.L. James, which I have no issue with at all). It was her calling the main relationship portrayed in 50 Shades “the greatest modern love story” of her time (this reviewer is about 20 years younger than I am, by my estimate; perhaps younger), that compelled me to respond.
I thought carefully about what I felt and thought and how I wanted to convey these bits, edited and revised my comments a few times before I posted them for approval. Then, I went on to my day’s other business.
Unfortunately, I received the following message (see below for our email chain) later that day.
Her decision not to “approve” or post my comment on her site and her intense, personal reaction surprised and appalled me, as you will see by my email response to her.
I’m not trying to start any kind of conflict or flame war. I really want to know what you all think. (See below.) Here are my main questions to you, my blog readers:
—-Are we supposed to withhold responding when we have ANY disagreement between us and any members of our online “community”?
—-Is ALL disagreement “negativity”?
—-Do we have to speak in “soft tones,” “soft-pedaling” anything that might possibly be critical, because so many writers/bloggers seem unable to tolerate being criticized?
—-Are we supposed to keep our sites (and purportedly, our lives) free of all conflictual conversations by not approving critical comments?
—-Do those of us who have criticisms to levy have to refrain or risk being called “trolls,” or banned/kicked out of review groups, comments sections, social network platform groups, etc.?
—-Do only “yes” people and “supporters” feel (and get) welcomed online?
I can’t recreate my exact comment, but here is the gist:
Your post made me feel sad and I feel sorry for you. What world do you live in, that these two-dimensional characters and their dysfunctional sex and interactions constitute any kind of “love story,” much less “the greatest one”? James’ depiction of her disempowered, ignorant female lead character is insulting to women everywhere. The “billionaire” male lead is selfish, clueless about healthy relationships and awful to his “girlfriend.” The “plot,” thin as it is, is implausible. Some of the “play” depicted in the sex scenes is not credible or even possible (people have tried to recreate it with laughable and/or injurious results).
I reviewed and disliked all three books, giving many considered reasons. Please go read my reviews. I also consider E.L. James’ writing among the worst to receive public acclaim, so as an editor, author and reader, I challenge your evaluation of the writing of these novels. Your opinions caused me to feel discouraged.
Here are the first email I got from this reviewer, below, and our exchange below that.
Subject: Blog Comment
“I was really on the fence with whether or not to approve your comment, Sally, or to respond to it. Because realistically the best way to deal with negativity is to not feed into it. So in this case, I’m going to respond privately.
“In answer to your question: ‘What world do you live in?’ I live in a democratic world where everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and since it is my blog, I am free to express it. You chose to read my blog, just as you obviously chose to read Fifty Shades of Grey. And like all readers in the world, we all have different viewpoints on how we interpret a book. You have no right to judge my opinion, just as I have no right to judge yours.
“However, the fact that you chose to try and publicly insult me on my blog, saying that you feel sorry for me for my opinion, that you feel saddened by it, is extremely hurtful.
“I have supported your posts on [the Facebook group I moderate] since its inception, and I am disgusted that you would even try to publicly insult me, as I have never done anything but provide you with support. I did not approve your comment.”
I’m reading this, stunned. Really? These two lines, in the same paragraph, written without irony?
“I live in a democratic world where everyone is entitled to their own opinion…” followed by
“You have no right to judge my opinion, just as I have no right to judge yours.”
If we have a “democratic” right to our opinions, isn’t judgment a form of opinion? Why does she think we “have no right” to judge anyone else’s opinions? That is so absurd I don’t even know where to start with a response.
And, a deletion of my comment follows this “explanation”? I’m sputtering and laughing, both.
What IS a review, if it’s not exactly that: one reader and possibly another writer JUDGING another’s opinions and writing?
What is the function of comments on reviews, if not to JUDGE that review (like it, dislike it, agree/disagree)?
I considered, took some deep breaths, decided it was worth my time to respond. Maybe she could learn something… Maybe not.
I wrote, revised a few times, then responded:
Subject: Re: Blog Comment
“It is your blog, your review and your opinions: all true. But, if the only comments you ‘approve’ on your site are those that agree with you, make you feel good and support your opinions unequivocally, you will stagnate.
“I did not set out to be nor do you have to take my comments as ‘hurtful.’ I was expressing my dismay, my personal (as a female and feminist who is a lot older than you) and my professional (as a writer who has been writing a lot longer than you) sorrow at your conclusions and approval of those books. I read them all, too. I reviewed them all, too.
“If you want to go and comment on my reviews, please do. Say whatever you want, as a reviewer, a writer and a reader: that is your right. I encourage you to do so.
“Your previous support of my posts is appreciated, but your using that as if you ‘paid’ for my approval forever by doing so is insulting to me. Stop approving, stop supporting, if you think you ‘deserve’ some special and DISHONEST responses from me for doing so.
“If you want to close off conversations between us because you disagree and get hurt feelings when I don’t like what you write or post, I can’t stop you, but please; don’t make it as if I did anything wrong. You have a public blog. Comments are public. I did not ‘publicly insult you.’ I responded to your public post, in public, where comments belong.
She wrote back:
Re: Re: Blog Comment
“I will not respond to your negativity, Sally.
“We obviously do live in two different worlds. I’m happy to stay in mine.”
I did not and will not respond directly to her. I gave up on her: not apparently willing to be learning; not worth my time.
Instead, I am writing this post and asking for YOUR opinions.
Maybe I could have phrased my comment more “gently,” in some misguided attempt to protect her, but I would NEVER consider doing that for a man or someone my own age. Wouldn’t I be subjecting her to gender and age bias if I were to withhold, “dumb down” or soft-pedal my considered and professional opinions just because she’s a woman and/or someone younger than I am? She presents herself as a professional in public so I treated her as one.
Why doesn’t she expect some responses that don’t please her and have a better way to manage her own feelings about them? Why can’t she handle disagreement and criticism with more grace, or, even better, engage in a conversation with me about her points of disagreement, defend her opinion, argue her points, instead of playing the “hurt” and “insulted” cards? Why is all right for her to judge my comments but not all right for me to judge her review?
Are we “fellow authors” and reviewers/bloggers really obligated—no; supposed to—send all comments in which we disagree with a blogger to them privately, first? Why?
I vehemently disagree with these ever-expanding hiding-from-public-view practices. I am certain that hiding disagreements results in the disappearance of complex, nuanced dialogue and provides the public with pablum, instead. Then, the only thing readers get is a distorted picture of author engagement, in which we all hold hands and sing “Kum Ba Ya” all the time. When we post only glowing reviews, readers are misled and we breach the public trust.
When some label comments they don’t like as “negativity” and relegate disagreement to the private realm, we are all then left with sanitized, white-washed, dishonest and hypocritical non-dialogue in all public spaces: what is the point of engagement, then? Just keep patting everyone on the back, regardless of value, worth, logic, perceptions?
Not all disagreement is “negativity.” Not all conflicts between us should position one person as “good” and the other as a “troll.” Yes, there are “trolls.” I am not one of them, and this person should realize that. I am not hurt, just pointing out the obvious.
If she really can’t tell the difference between my expressing my honest opinions, while I am respecting but not liking hers; if she can’t see that I am not liking that she came to the conclusions she did or made the choices she did, but I am taking the time to tell her that as one professional to another, then I am led to give up on her.
Authors and bloggers, in my view, do not “earn” uncritical support (or maybe you think you do and you want it, but I do NOT) just by joining a group or getting to know each other online. If you are my professional “friend” or colleague, PLEASE tell me the truth. I don’t want applause; I want critiques and engagement that matter.
Just so you know: I do not go around looking for people to disagree with. I am busy. Most of my posted comments are supportive and positive, and I don’t post a lot of those, either.
HOWEVER, when something disturbs and moves me enough to write to someone about it, that writer should be grateful: I read his/her piece, respected the author enough to consider their opinions or positions, and responded from a thoughtful place.
When I am writing to the reviewer or blogger in order to provide my emotional as well as logical responses, that is further proof that I believe in this author or blogger enough to take MY precious time to craft and post a response.
If this blogger and any others do not understand that all thoughtful comments, however contradictory or critical, are a gift, their censorship is going to make honest dialogue even more rare.
Some writers apparently don’t have the courage to stand by their own public proclamations and engage publicly with people who do not agree with them. I term this behavior “unprofessional” and deem them unworthy of my time and opinions in the future.
BTW: I went to her FB group to see if she (the moderator) had kicked me out, and so far, not. However, she posted and pinned this query, right after our email exchange:
“Since this group is becoming more and more of a spam magnet, and not so much about [the group’s stated topic] anymore, I’m thinking it’s time to put it to rest?
“If anyone cares to keep it open, please respond with a comment, and I’ll see what reception I receive.
“I’m thinking about opening another one using a different name and with a slightly different purpose. Thoughts?”
Shutting down this group and using a different name to start another one?
Coincidence? I doubt it.
PLEASE post your comments here, on my main blog, to this any any other post:
ALL comments that are not SPAM are ALWAYS approved.
image from http://www.phoenixheart.net
Keep writing, keep commenting, keep reading, keep approving.
Best to you all.