Critics and “crickets”

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This post is an attempt to inform, inspire, and hopefully even save lives for National Bullying Prevention Month…. please feel free to share!

First, let’s talk about the critics….

“If you’re not in the arena… I’m not interested in your feedback”.  Brene Brown
For those who are publishing or performing in public, whether it’s digital, such as in social media, or actual, such as in an “arena” or some type of stage or auditorium or gymnasium or field, we all will encounter critics.  In my artistic endeavors of writing, singing, playing piano, and songwriting, I have had lots of highs and lows from people’s responses to me when I published my work and performed on concert stages.  As Brene Brown points out, however, unless a critic knows, through years of firsthand experience, what sacrifices, hard work, long hours of practice, expense, mentoring, coaching, training, and especially courage in showing the world your work when there are no guarantees that you will succeed or that anyone will like what you have created, their feedback is uninformed and usually inaccurate.  They have no credibility as critics unless they have taken those risks and been vulnerable in the arena and at a substantial level of mastery.
When we manifest a skill or talent to the world that is actually very challenging, but we make it “look easy”, that is a testament to the natural aptitude + the many years of training and practice that is involved.  When a critic suggests that “anyone could do that”, such as an armchair quarterback yelling at the TV screen, it is clear that person has not actually been in the arena.  Add the pressure of performing a highly technical skill that has no guarantee of success in front of others and we start to realize we should change from criticism to admiration.  Anytime I think “I could do that”, I then either imagine myself doing it or actually try to do it and then I can tell that I am not anywhere close to those who have spent countless hours making it “look easy”.
For criticism to be accurate and helpful, it is better if the criticism is
1)  Constructive
2)  Asked for, solicited
3)  From someone who is at a higher level of mastery in the field you’re in
4)  Given with a THINK perspective, which means all of these elements apply…
Is the criticism “True”, “Helpful”, “Important”, “Necessary”, and “Kind”
(Some say the “I” can be “Inspiring” or “Intelligent”, so whatever works for you)!
And for those who criticize when a person is struggling or suffering in some way, that is another kind of “arena” that they have no deep understanding of, unless they’ve been there themselves.  That is where empathy and kindness and compassion is especially needed or else they are adding insult to injury and making the suffering worse.
Now, on to the “crickets”….
When we publish or perform our work, we may “hear crickets”, which means no one responds at all, in a positive or negative way.  It’s that lonely sound when you don’t hear a single human voice, not even your favorite pet’s bark or meow, just… crickets, somewhere out there, not saying anything kind or reassuring or complimentary or even acknowledging your presence.  The crickets would just keep chirping, whether you’re there or not.
Criticism, especially if it’s personal, attacking something you can’t change, can feel like abuse.  “Crickets” can feel like neglect.  You’re being completely ignored, it’s apathy and rejection, like a cold shoulder, whether in a digital or a public arena.  It can be subtle, like a  look that shuts you down or body language that tells you “I just don’t care about anything you have to say”. Comedians compare a lack of laughter to their jokes as “dying” on stage, so it can feel like your identity, your reputation, and even your physical self is being threatened.  We want to be part of a group, to belong to a tribe, so “crickets” in response to a show of our vulnerability feels like we’re being outcast.
So, what do we do about the critics and “crickets”?
1)  Read this article over and over and share it with everyone you know (ha ha, but actually not kidding). ;-D
2)  People are busy and don’t have a lot of free time.  Seriously, I should be washing dishes and I’m writing a blog post instead.  So, they may want to share in the joy of your published or performed works, but they may literally not have a moment to themselves.
3)  It seems like everyone is trying to sell something, start a side hustle, show off on social media, or publish an album or book or video, so there is more “digital noise” than ever.  Even though it makes sense to be offended by criticism or to feel neglected by “crickets”, it could be just that your skill or talent is being crowded out by everyone else’s.
4)  When you’re starting a “do it yourself” business and you have to self promote, some people think that automatically means you don’t have any special skill or talent.  And they’re “put off” by you “showing off”.  They may see you as bragging and telling everyone how great you are in your attempt to get the word out about your work.  They don’t know that it costs thousands of dollars to pay someone to promote you and that some very creative and talented people are unknowns because they don’t have the money for marketing and PR.  There are tons of examples of starving artists that died penniless and then someone realized their worth and promoted their art and made millions doing it.  It’s often times much more about the business and the media’s portrayal of someone’s worth instead of the actual artistic or entertainment value of the work that you’re publishing or performing.  A great example is Joshua Bell, one of the best concert violinists in the world, performing in a subway station as a social experiment and getting hardly any notice.  If you don’t have the PR and the fanfare and the right kind of “stage”, your talent can be criticized or ignored.
5)  If someone doesn’t know how much sacrifice and challenges and creativity and talent and emotional upheaval, etc. your published or performed work involved, they won’t appreciate it fully.  Sometimes if it’s someone we know personally, we think “Well, they can’t be that good” or “it can’t be that hard” because they’re not seeing all the work behind the scenes.  Possibly, it’s because sometimes “familiarity breeds contempt”, those we are most familiar with are those we are the most likely to abuse or neglect!
We may have to just forgive those who “know not what they do” (or don’t do, or say, or don’t say).  If they really don’t know what it’s like to be in the arena, if you’ve done your best to explain what the arena is like for you and they’re still not being kind, you may have to let go and start the process of forgiving.  Whether you have a conversation to create boundaries or to ask for an apology is up to you… it may depend on how often the criticism or “crickets” are happening, how hurtful it was or still is, and how much it impacts your life in the present moment.  Our society has the unfair expectation that the one who has been hurt somehow has to do more of the work of forgiving or reconciliation or seeking justice than the one who has been unkind, so we have to take the high road and keep doing the right thing, even if others aren’t.
6)  Maybe, and only just maybe, our work is actually not that great or we’re not presenting it in a compelling way to the world…. naah, that’s not it, we’re all awesome and everything we do is genius!  ;-D
But seriously, let’s all keep trying, let’s go for it, even if it’s awkward and there are lots of unknowns, which there will be.  But we do need to be open to learning from what’s working as well as what’s not working and adjust if needed.  And open to constructive criticism and figure out how to reduce those “crickets” moments as much as possible!  Those who are taking the risks, failing and falling, being vulnerable, and learning what needs to be improved upon are those who have the best chance of succeeding.
And most importantly, there is the spiritual side of success, which is not society’s definition of success.  I really like the quote “Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it” for that reason.  And the excellent book “Falling Upward” by Richard Rohr talks about the second half of life, where your identity and proving yourself in worldly ways start to not matter anymore.  So, there’s that aspect of how to handle critics and “crickets”…  deciding you will transcend the parts of the world that are petty and unkind, love yourself in a healthy way, and make service to, and communion with, all living creatures and the divine your main goals.  And serving others and God with the gifts and talent that God gave you is a way to be true to yourself, to give credit to God, to show gratitude, and to connect to God and others.  That kind of spiritual success is how we can truly leave a legacy.