Sunday, 30 June 2013

Silence is a Loud Opinion

If you haven't noticed by now (?) I have some strong opinions, and I'm generally not afraid to share them.

However, here's a nice little contradiction - one of the things I'm very keen on is good manners. I don't mean  some of the sillier aspects of convention or etiquette, but good solid basic manners designed to prevent harm to others.

It goes without saying that sometimes offering one's opinion would involve a breach of manners.

An example of this is the common one where somebody displays a creation of theirs such as a piece of artwork or music, and asks you what you think. They put you on the spot.

Putting somebody on the spot is a breach of manners, but it would be quite wrong to retaliate. On the other hand they just ASKED for your opinion. And it's awful.

The truth can often hurt, so now this is a real conundrum. What DO you say?

I hate that situation. I hate it with a passion.

So, I turn it around. I think, what would I want them to say to me? Well, I'd like them to be honest, but gentle. Constructive criticism. You can be honest without being rude.

I might say simply "It's not my kind of thing." And that is probably as honest as it gets, because tastes are very personal. Just because something does not appeal to MY tastes, doesn't mean it's bad. My tastes are not mainstream, and chances are, what doesn't appeal to me could be huge with the right crowd. Don't forget Decca turned down the Beatles.

But there's one way we can almost avoid offence, and that's saying nothing.

It can't always be done, because in person, in real time, and even sometimes in telephone or text conversations, you are "put on the spot", and will be harrassed until you reply. Depending on the level of harrassment you may forget your manners, of course.

When it is possible, and online it often is, the way to answer is to not answer. This leaves an element of doubt. Did she not see my question? Did she read it and forget to answer? Did she have no answer? that her answer?

There are times, pretty much daily, when any honest answer would be offensive. Especially if it's not a direct question. Is a statement in public a question or isn't it? There's almost a "what do you think?" implied, isn't there? In any case, saying nothing when it's not a direct question is ENTIRELY permitted. There is no responsibility by a casual reader to respond. Good manners requires that you respond to a text message, email, or other electronic communication, just as if it were a handwritten note. But a broadcast public statement? No.

So, you have an out there. In fact, it could be said that good manners requires you to NOT respond, if the only possible response has the potential to offend. See how this works? It's twisty turny, but it's not wrong.

You may not care. You may decide to say your bit anyway, and face the consequences. And we all have days like that. Plus, there are huge differences depending on who it is you are (not) responding to. If it's me? I probably won't notice if you loudly ignore me, plus you can be quite rude before I notice that. Others....well, let's say some are more thin-skinned than others, and some actively seek attention, so you can bear that in mind. Or not.


  1. Depends on the individual requesting the critique, I would think. If I write a story, not that this happens much anymore; I prefer someone to give me the hardass approach. The same goes for my cooking; the kitchen and I have an undeclared sort of truce.
    A friend of mine considers herself to be an artist and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or so it is said; she asked me her opinion on a piece...I hate that because I know her entire sense of self is wrapped up in her "artwork". It was a collection of yellows and oranges using various mediums. Seriously, as soon as I saw it, the memory of an ill-fated evening with someone called Harvey Wallbanger rushed to my mind and I did an internal gag. It was awful. It was vomit on a canvas but I had to lie. Lie I did and then someone else critiqued, coming away with the image of a kitchen spill, unwisely, sharing the thought with the artist. Holy crow. We all have our own take on things but we need to know to whom we are offering an opinion. If the personality is delicate? Best shut, the hell, up. Others prefer honesty, they may not like it but respect the honour of being viewed as a mature individual.

    1. Absolutely, you have to know who you are talking to. I find I get too many compliments, I'm not actually complaining, it's lovely but it's excessive. Therefore I conclude not all of it is sincere. I prefer a bit more honesty, but we are raised to tell lies. Our society is a little odd.

    2. :))) No worries - I don't believe in false compliments; they are lies. It is possible to be kind and not actually speaking your mind. Okay, requires a little mental juggling but it can be done...the artwork I mentioned? I told the artist that it was reminiscent of an early morning sunrise. Far preferable to, "It reminds me of what I left in the barf bucket next to my bed."

    3. Martin would have gone purple trying to stay quiet, and then said it anyway.

  2. I think quite hard about whether or not to reply, sometimes. If I really dislike the item in question, I'll very often pretend I haven't seen it (unless directly questioned about it). However, with each I consider whether there is anything about it that I like - and concentrate on those good points, when I respond. With someone like yourself, Mel, I know that if I say "I'd have rather had purple beads instead of the dark red" you won't take that as a personal criticism, but understand that it's just my love of purple coming to the fore. As you say though, not everyone likes being dished up with honest criticism. In that case, I just talk about the good points and skip over the bad. However, if the bad points are just too bad to ignore, I'll consider whether I think it is better that the person be aware of them, than continue on producing work that resembles cat poop (for instance). In that instance, I'll try so very hard to be gentle when critiquing the object - and always end on a positive. It is also achievable to critique in an oblique kind of way. For instance, when I saw a photograph of a pony being galloped down a tarmacadam topped road (ouch! The legs! The poor hooves!), I went and looked at the other photographs and commented on how the other horses looked so unhappy at being hammered down the road, it has to be bad for their legs, I wonder how many were lame the next day etc etc. The orignal poster took this as a personal slight, but I was able to say "no, no, I was referring to the other ponies, not yours!", which soothed the troubled waters - but I know that the notion that what she did was wrong, is still in her head. That's the important part.

    1. Oh that's a difficult one. I was on a forum once where in the course of conversation I made the observation that if you don't have any pasture, then keeping sheep was a bit like keeping fish if you didn't have a tank of water. While there is a technical difference (a fish cannot survive out of water) I did specify "tank". I mean - you could keep one in a tea cup, but it wouldn't be happy. Immediately I was asked point blank: "are you saying that if I only have a small sandy yard I should not be permitted to keep sheep" and I said "YEP". She cried unfair, but a) when animal welfare is concerned manners take a back seat AND b) she did ask.

  3. When someone asks me a question I don't want to answer, I generally exclaim: "Now THERE'S a question!" The surprised silence that generates usually gives me time to think of something else to say... Unless the question is rude. And then that is ALL I say. :)

    1. I've used similar things. I've even been known to say "are you sure you want me to answer that?" when pushed.

  4. To me, there is usually a gentle way to exit a request for criticism. I make it very clear that I am not paid to be a judge, and would never ever claim that as a profession. My powers of discernment cause ME problems at times; not to mention what they might do for someone else. LOL

    That said, there are times when someone holds the opinion that my opinion counts, and I will share it for them to take what they might from it. It is usually very honest and reflective. If they do not like what they see, they can choose to change whatever they offer to contribute--always lots of possibilities and chances to revise, thank goodness. If one considers themselves an artist in any way, revision and improvement comes with the territory.

    Mel, it is like when you keep us on the straight road about grammar and other such important things. It helps us all to raise the bar and shoot for the common goal...or at least give it our best shot. ~ Blessings! :)

    1. It's certainly not something to be taken lightly. Oh damn, am I suggesting mindfulness again?

  5. I am way too direct as most people who know me are painfully aware. I have never mastered the art of genteel speech, and often raise up ire when all I really wanted to do was encourage them.

    For me, how I respond depends on the level of friendship. I spend a lot of time in the art community, and often aspiring artists will ask for an "honest" critique. I know that the last thing they really want is an honest critique, and I feed them Pablum and quickly move on.
    It is a bit more difficult with a friend that I wish to encourage, especially if I know how much effort they put into their work.
    One friend of mine is an aspiring author, but her command of basic written English is very poor. She also lacks the ability to stand outside of her material, so most of her offerings are diaryish, self-centered, vague and dull.

    I just cannot bring myself to suggest that she take a couple of first year composition classes, and give her suggestions that she cannot possibly follow. But she writes and writes with such heart that I cannot suggest she take up tatting.

    1. I think all you can do is congratulate her on finishing projects (which is much harder than non-creative people realise) and leave her to enjoy what she does. After all there is so much pleasure in creating, the end result doesn't have to be good - look at children's work. Nobody would ever tell an eager grandchild that his picture could be better if he centred the main subject and chose colours more in keeping with the overall mood of the piece. We see the passion that went into it, hug him, and put it on the fridge.

      I think the challenge comes when said friend is trying to actually SELL the thing, and it's not working, and they ask you why. That's when shuffling your feet isn't going to cut it.

    2. I've seen that situation. I have a friend that writes passionately. I bought one of her self published books. It isn't horrible, but she really could have used an outside editor. The story is fine, but the text jumps from subject to subject within the story. It is hard to read because it does not have good flow to the story. I think she might be a bit ADD, so her writing reflects... SQUIRREL!!!

    3. And yet......others may love it.

  6. You is an area I seem to have pretty poor EQ skills in. I am very good at reading human behaviour but I am very very poor in this one area. I must be, because I get myself in trouble all the time.
    When someone says to me, "What do you think?" I assume they want to know what I think. And so I tell them.
    If I don't like something I will say.."Not fond of it, not my thing, not my taste, or a straight up, ya..I don't like it."
    And then I can immediately tell I have hurt their feelings and I am left standing there thinking, "Oh I thought you wanted my opinion".
    I absolutely recognize if it is something they have done themselves as in a new hair colour or a new dress or a new hair cut or a piece of art a little more
    discretion is required if they say to me.."What do you think?"
    In cases like that if I hate it, I respond with a very upbeat positive tone of voice and say..."Oh you seem to love it!!" Or "How happy you must be with it!!"
    I have not actually answered the question myself but have merely reflected back how they seem to feel about it.

    What I don't understand is why do you want to know what I think? I don't get that at all.
    If I get a new hair cut, get a new hair colour, buy new glasses, paint my living room eggplant, I have obviously made a choice. And I did it, because I like it but inevitably someone will say to me..."Oh you got new glasses."
    I answer "yep"
    They reply with a "Do you like them?"
    To which I reply "Well I must, I bought them"
    To which they reply "I don't like them."

    At that point rather then keeping my mouth shut and moving along I then turn around and will always say something along the lines of "I don't recall asking for your opinion" or "Well it's a good job you don't have to wear them"
    I assure you it's extremely facetious and rude.

    I never ask for people's opinion in my decorating, my clothes, my hair, my glasses. I don't want your opinion. I don't need anyone's approval. I want to show it to you because I am pleased with it and I wish to share it with you.
    I am NOT seeking your approval.
    A simple "well it was a big job but you seem very happy with it" is just fine thank you. But I certainly recognize if I point it out to you I am setting myself up for your opinion.
    I sure as heck do not understand walking into work on a Wed morning with new glasses, sitting in a meeting and some woman walking in and saying.."Oh Deena. new glasses." To which I reply yep, and then the opinion comes, and then I get rude.
    It is all very exhausting.

    1. I am killing myself laughing reading that, and mostly it's because I can see you saying it, but also it's because I understand totally. Yeah, if somebody asks for an opinion, WHY do they ask, if they don't want it? People are bloody weird.

      I conclude they are insecure in their choices, but I know from bitter experience that although it is them with the problem, I'd better be tactful, ir I'll be the bad person. And I can be tactful, but I won't out right lie. It's a bit of a weighing up sometimes there. This is exactly why I've developed a habit of saying nothing on such occasions, if I possibly can, but if I'm PUSHED........well, you'll get the truth.

      Hair/glasses/walls etc.....well, I think I give off a vibe that affects how people offer unsolicited opinions to me. It manifests in one of two ways: either they feel they know me well enough to be brutally honest in their negative criticism, knowing I won't care, OR they are too terrified to risk it. Actually - generally those closest to me just don't bother. They know I don't care. But I never, ever, ever ask anyone "How do I look?" and I confess, I do not understand those who do. That's what mirrors are for.

  7. Or "Does this make me look fat?"
    Or "how old do you think I am?"
    Why do women ask questions like that? Are the nuts? Are they masochists? I do not get it.

    1. I don't know. I wish I knew. I failed Woman 101.