“Gee, Michelle, That’s Great.”
During my years of teaching college writing courses, I remember how reluctant students were to say anything critical about a classmate’s work. Praise and high-fives were the order of the day, leaving the prof to play “bad cop.” I accepted my hatchet-man role as a by-product of youthful peer pressure.
But years after leaving the classroom, I find things are about the same.
Medium sends me stories it thinks I will like, and I’ve been writing comments. But I think I’ll stop: I am seeing a uniformity of enthusiastic support and praise in other people’s comments that reminds me of the “Gee, Michelle” attitude of my students. I also find this point of view firmly in place on other writer-related websites.
The consistent pattern of endorsing and praising appears to be an accepted convention or courtesy, an enactment of the the old bromide about saying nothing if you can’t say something nice.
Is that what’s expected? Why does it appear as though good manners is shorthand for a bland, power-of-positive-thinking mentality? I would have thought that, unlike non-writers, those of us who write would welcome the exercise of critical thinking among readers — especially when those readers are often other writers. Isn’t that the clearest evidence that what you’ve written has been taken seriously, and read with care?
It can’t be true that courtesy and good manners are incompatible with critical thinking. Otherwise, how could we ever learn from each other? I can’t remember who it was — maybe a famous science fiction writer like Theodore Sturgeon or Philip K. Dick — who commented that “ninety percent of everything is crap.”
That seems a little extreme: writers know that perfection is a Platonic ideal, useful as a goal, but not attainable in the fallen world we live in. Even so, it seems to me that expressions of unconditional love for one another’s work is something less than useful, or honest.
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