The wise person finds enemies more useful than the fool does friends. – Baltasar Gracián, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, in Aphorism 84.
I’ve witnessed quite a bit of self-destructive behavior in my time on Earth. You might say I’m something of an expert, having lived in the midst of the sort of poverty that engenders a self-destructive bent and experienced the kinds of things that drive shame right into the core of your being. I have no idea how common this sort of experience is among writers, though I suspect at least a sizable portion of us have touched this in some way, or we wouldn’t be driven to express ourselves in quite such a fashion. That’s why I think it’s important to speak some to this streak and what I’ve seen over the last few months.
I used to fight against anything and everything. No slight was too small, no cause too large for me to take on. You have to meet injustice head-on, and all those little injustices snowball into bigger ones. I’m not saying that’s untrue, either; I still believe that sentence to be true and important to making the world a better place. The thing is that experience taught me – as it does most people – that there are not only right and wrong ways to challenge incorrect notions, but right times and places to do it. That’s a convoluted way of saying that I learned to pick my battles. When you’re only one person, there’s only so much you can do and you can wear yourself out tilting at windmills, leaving nothing for the battles you really need to fight.
I admit, all of this is easier said than done. Every day is a struggle to choose those moments. Is it worth it, though? Hell yeah. Expending the effort to reign in anger and express it in an appropriate fashion before it erupts into wanton chaos and self-destructiveness is almost always the correct response. That’s why I’m a little…well, disappointed isn’t the correct term, because that implies a parentalism that I’m frankly not comfortable assuming. Let’s go with upset. I’m a little upset to see the brush fires that have been flaring up between authors and critics in the recent few months.
Before we go one step further: I want to note that I agree with JW Manus’ views on the situation 100%: it’s incorrect to tell writers to shut up, be quiet, and do as they’re told. Not only does it go back to that paternalism I mentioned, it’s also a way of controlling the conversation, and that’s not what I’m seeking to do at all. Hell, I’m speaking up here myself and I wouldn’t want to be told to sit down and shut up.
No, my goal is to examine what I’ve seen, why it might be happening, and also possibly share why it’s such a bad idea to allow these critics into your heart and career. We’ll take a look at all of those things tomorrow.