David Smalley asked a question on Twitter last night:
If something is good in principle, and then becomes abused, how does one criticize the abuse without the Outrage Brigade accusing the critic of being against the original good thing?
— David Smalley (@davidcsmalley) January 23, 2018
I’m not sure “How do I criticize without being subject to criticism myself” is quite the right frame of mind for the question, but there’s a decent question in there. So, assuming he actually meant to ask, “How do I make it clear that I’m in favor of something while criticizing its abuse?”, here are some tips drawn from my prior writing on giving criticism.
These may seem a bit general, but the point of criticizing something you like should be to improve it. That means you want to make your criticism constructive. How?
- Don’t pretend to be more objective about the situation than you are. You have history, particularly in a smaller community. Own it and the personal biases you’ve developed with it.
- Offer your criticism when it’s least likely to be viewed as an attempt to put a finger on the scale of current events. This makes the situation less “us vs. them”, making it easier to hear your criticism, and reduces your appearance of bias.
- Offer real, unstinting, thoughtful praise of the people and “something good” you’re going on to criticize. If you do that well before you offer criticism and do it consistently, you’re much more likely to be viewed as trying to be helpful.
- Be specific in your criticism and praise. This is particularly true when you’re trying to separate appropriate use of something from abuse. What’s an example of doing it right? How does that differ from doing it wrong? Can you point to real examples of each?
- Focus on behaviors you want to see change. Calling people “Outrage Brigade”, for example, isn’t useful. If you want to offer constructive criticism, focus instead on which expressions of outrage you find problematic. People can change what they do, not who they are.
- Make sure your criticism is accurate. Someone who doesn’t agree with you about the basics of a situation or behavior you’re complaining about isn’t going to think anything more needs to change than your perceptions.
- Don’t try to set yourself up as an authority when offering criticism. Give them other reasons to change. If people don’t agree that you have any authority over them, your “Change” will be met with “Make me.”
- Make sure you’re not just venting. Venting is fine, but it isn’t constructive criticism. If you actually want change instead of just for people to hear you, you’ve got a lot more work to do.
Those are the basics. I hope they help, David.