If You Can’t Say Anything Nice… Isn’t Enough Anymore

Kids are brutal because they have no filter. They ask grandma why she has a moustache. They ask little people why they’re short and wonder out loud what happened to the person who is in a wheelchair. Generally, they don’t say these things because they’re malicious; they do them because they’re curious about the world. Children also have no idea what’s acceptable and what isn’t. At some point in life, children begin to grasp the concept that there are things you can ask and things you should leave unsaid. Back in the day, this was usually communicated with “Billy! If you can’t say anything nice…” and Billy would finish the sentence: “Don’t say anything at all.”

Critics and Looking Smart

People have criticized the works of others since forever. There was probably someone at Lascaux who told the cave artist that cows didn’t have eight legs and weren’t red. The others in the group may have even sagely nodded making that critic feel smart. As a critic, it’s easy to look smarter than the person who created whatever you’re criticizing, but you’re not. You’re just pointing out flaws in something that someone took a lot of time inventing. That doesn’t serve anyone. Unless someone wants your opinion, you should generally keep your negative thoughts to yourself.

Real Critics

Back before the dis-Information Age, everyone could be a critic, but they couldn’t connect with more than their own circle of friends and family. If you wanted to get paid or get attention for your opinions, you had to have some sort of qualifications. Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel saw thousands of films and wrote countless numbers of words about them.

Internet Critics

Nowadays, you just need a phone and an Internet connection, and you can broadcast your film and other opinions around the world, even if you’re not an expert and have no experience in the field that you’re criticizing. You can say whatever’s in your head without having to have a single qualification, and many people believe their ignorance is better than someone’s lifelong study of a subject. Because these critics reach thousands to millions of people, their uninformed, or worse, pseudo-informed opinions can have dire effects, especially on those who are less media savvy and have no idea how to do real research.

Form of Criticism

Worse than criticizing something someone created is the rampant name-calling and personal attacks that the relative anonymity of the Internet and its bots gives people. These negative, hate-filled diatribes can be directed at politicians, celebrities, groups of people, or individuals, and they accomplish nothing but make the virtual and real world worse places. When you don’t agree with someone, calling them a name doesn’t help to change their mind or personality. More often than not, especially when your dealing with an individual, you accomplish the exact opposite of what you want to have happen – you ensconce them in their position and give them no way to look at the facts as you see them. It’s destructive to the person, to your position, and more importantly, it carries real world consequences for everyone involved.

A healthy debate doesn’t include calling someone names or yelling, and if you’re a part of that type of interaction, you’re perpetuating a place where no one wants to live. A good debate doesn’t happen between two uninformed individuals; if you’re not an expert in the subject, your opinion is just that – uninformed, even if you’ve watched 12 hours of YouTube videos. There are some people whose mind you’ll never be able to change, especially on the Internet, because we’ve lost the ability to look at all sides. Instead, we cling stubbornly to our side, and try to find ways to shore up our position. It’s easier to do now with all of the false information out there and most people’s inability to distinguish between trusted sources and skewed or misleading sources.

The Broken Umbrella

When I was about 10, I watched an adult at a daycare center break my umbrella. When I confronted her about it, she said she didn’t do it. I showed her the handle; she said it was like that when she tried to hang it back on the rack. I told her it was because she broke it. She denied the allegation, and at some point in the interaction, she cried. I was in the right. I saw her break the umbrella and listened as she lied about it. Had she acknowledged her actions and apologized, that would’ve been the end of it. Instead, I attacked her and the veracity of her statements and accepted my punishment for doing so. (“Children can’t talk to adults like that.” I was told.)

When my mom arrived to pick me and my sister up, she saw me standing against the wall. The babysitter told my mom what happened. I told my side of it. My mom understood. She said I would need to apologize, not for what I said but for the way I said it. The truth and what is right can be conveyed in a way that doesn’t hurt people, we just have to find it and realize that some people won’t ever accept the truth or do what’s right.

The New Wisdom

If you can’t say anything nice, find something nice to say anyway. It takes vigilance because its easy for anyone, including ourselves to fall into a pattern of negativity, especially when confronted with non-stop criticism running through our news feeds. Filling your social media with positive messages and images will help combat the negativity. (We like stuffed penguins and #CookieSaturday.)

It’s no longer sufficient to keep quiet. The Internet and its social media platforms are rife with negativity. Trolls actively search for people they can bully from behind a keyboard. They want to ruin your day or just be contrary; it makes them feel smart and powerful. Yes, you should report and block them, especially when you suspect it’s a bot and not a person. Unfortunately, you can’t stop every bot, and someone you know may be attacked without you finding out. Find something nice to say to five people on your social media friends list today, and see how much of a difference you can make.

What Does This Have to Do with Creativity?

Creativity requires thinking deeply about things. This is an attempt to think deeply about the Internet and how it affects people and their emotional states and what we can do to make it better. Creativity also requires a safe space and is done better when creators have positive attitudes. (Yes, there are notable exceptions to that statement, but generally speaking, studies have shown that creativity has a curvilinear relationship to happiness.) If we can help people improve their mood and feel better about themselves, if we can empower them, they may be more likely to find a path in life that will improve their creativity and improve their joy. For more on creativity, follow this blog, join our Pateron, and check out my books.