As a disclaimer, I firmly believe, with all my little, scribbler soul, that critism is a vital tool in the creative process. There is no one so deserving of our praise, friendship, and earnest support than the critics closer to our creative process that tell us when we are off our game. This person might be the beta reader who gives it to us straight when our book is falling apart in the middle. This person might be the contacted expert we rely on to tell us if our description of gunplay, pre-colonialist Romania architecture, or Cathedral stained glass is accurate. They might be just a dear friend who’s there to tell us when we are taking it all too seriously and need to take a breather.
We need these people. We need these truth tellers.
Without people who can tell us honestly where we went wrong, and step in during the dark moments to remind us of the truths about ourseves, we would all fall apart as creatives. Thank you, dearly, everyone in my life like this.
Now…this blog isn’t about that type of critic.
<<cue the haunted house music>>
This blog is instead about the untruth tellers.
What is an untruth teller? Well, simplistically, they are the people who lie to us. Not so much the person that had the audacity to beta read for us then outrightly give damaging advice. No. This type of person isn’t even likely to ever gain enough intimacy with you to be that important in your life. (Or, I should pray they don’t!)
Instead this person avoids lies about your work altogether, opting to spin lies about who you are to you instead. They–at times, passively, other times, overtly–work to undermine your confidence as a writer/artist/human being.
Which is pretty heinous, but the least damaging weapon in their arsenal, in my experience.
What is the most damaging is this specific critic’s way of undermining our own reality of ourselves.
They could be anyone. Spouses, friends, fellow writers, complete strangers…anyone.
Example: I have had a habit of telling myself a little mantra of “I really like what I’m doing, and I’m quite good at doing it.” It’s written on an index card in my briefcase. Someone at the library once saw it and said to me, “That’s really arrogant.”
I remeber becoming a bit anxious at that statement and not being sure how to respond. I clammed up. I backpedaled and downplayed the statement to cast their little upturned, judgmental gaze from me. I self-deprecating to get them to move on.
I lost, essentially.
I lost because I allowed that person what they wanted out of that interaction: dominance–to cut me down back where they thought I belonged. To hear me give a verbal acknowledgement that I’m not as important as I think I am.
In reality, their statement was a social overreach. I barely knew them, I did not invite them to read my private personal affirmation, and I hadn’t asked for their input on it. They offered it up. Interjected. Like, an emotional flasher, imposing their unwelcomed energy on me without consent.
This is a breach of what emotionally intelligent, well-adjusted or self-possessed, adults would call the unspoken social contract. This person in this story was being socially inappropriate, and interpersonally obtuse. In other words: RUDE!!!
In fact, part of the unwritten social contract we have with eachother states that it is not couth to call others out about major failures of virtue, or personality, to their face. A less codependent person would have started a fight over such a statement. The unspoken social contract, all humans are guided by, basically works to help us to save face and allow others to save face. Usually for the sake of harmony. To avoid fights…especially ones we can’t win or are outnumbered for.
I, however, allowed it to slide.
1- because I’m not socially obtuse, and seldom rude, especially to strangers who’s mental capacity (or stability) is an unknown quantity to me.
2- because, like many writers and others working in creative fields, I have a touch of codependency and social anxiety. I fold easier than most to appease strong, and even irrationally aggressive personalities. (I’m getting better at unleashing my inner bitch…baby steps.)
In reality, this person was feeding me a lie about myself. Arrogant? I’m actually a high functioning codependent with a social anxiety issue. I have to frame a great deal of my life around convincing myself that the things I do have meaning or are achievable for someone like me–that I shouldn’t just give up and go recluse. I rely on the love of those closest (and safest) around me to be my truth tellers–to remind me of all the truths of me they appreciate when I am in a state of detachment.
Me? Arrogant? Maybe? Perhaps sometimes? Who knows? Who cares? Whose business?
In reality this person–this untruth teller–wasn’t trying to tell me something enlightening about myself or help me grow. (The opposite, actually. ) They were telling me a lie about myself. They were trying to strangle growth. They saw a quiet woman, working quietly, who had the audacity to hold a positive self affirmation. I, simply, with that private statement of self-esteem was forgetting my place. And, like I’ve known for ages, there are some people in this world that can’t stand the glare from anyone else’s light. They’ve got to snuff it out.
J.R.R. Tolkien said, “…we use the weapons we fear most…” So, to throw grandpa Tolkien’s words into context, when someone tells us an untruth about ourselves, they (almost obcenely) are baring themselves naked before us–they are telling us exactly what they fear. Exactly what we are usually too decent of human beings to ever throw back in their face.
So, for my story, it is likely (and I confirmed this after talking to this person further) that the person who accused me of acting arrogant themselves is a bit on the narcissistic side, a great deal on the insecure side, and is probably a bit sensitive of it all being called out.
In total, run if you ever hear the following from someone:
- You just think you’re so smart.
- Getting a big head, eh?
- Why would anyone care about what you have to say?
- And, what qualifies you to speak on that topic?
- You think you’re more important than everyone else.
- No one really wants to read what it is you’re writing/no one would ever want to put the sort of art you make on their wall.
The examples could go on, you get the picture.
The point is the above are all lies. They are statements fashioned to put you in your place. The only truth they tell is to reveal their insecurities.
My opinion, hold fast to the truth tellers in life–those who see you, uphold your personhood, and validate you on your mission. My goal is to surround myself with only those who are passionate about what they do, and what their friends do. I want to be in a community of creatives who are all eachother’s biggest fans and first patrons. They give the critique that is needed to drive eachother to their potential, and are the first ones to shoot an ecstatic text or email when they see eachother excelling.
The untruth teller has no place among that pantheon in my world.