Absolutely horrendous. Don’t quit your day job. If you delete this comment it shows that you can’t accept criticism.

So says ChaosDynamics – a YouTube user. What’s got Mr Dynamics all riled up is the presence on the video-sharing website of my first video. At this stage with 850 views, it doesn’t look like it will ‘go viral’. In fact it has barely caused a sniffle. But Chaos hates it. I don’t mind that. There’s no accounting for taste. (Even if he’s wrong.)

But somewhere in Dyna’s little goblin mind he’s managed to make a very perceptive point – can I accept criticism? To deny that you can’t accept criticism is a classic sign that… well, you can’t accept criticism. As I contemplate this particular Catch-22, I experience the unmistakable sensation of The Shoe being placed very definitely ‘on the other foot’

It’s hypocritical of me to complain about criticism because from an early age I have been a hyper- critical so-and-so. When I was nine-and-a-half I wrote to Gerry Daly of Room Outside – RTE’s long-running garden programme.

Dear Gerry,

I think that your gardening programme Room Outside is boring. Can you make it more interesting please?

Yours faithfully,

Colm O’Regan, Aged nine and a half.

Gerry didn’t reply himself. His producer did. “Dear Colm. I am sorry you think that Room Outside is boring. We are looking at ways to make it more interesting for younger viewers in future including a feature on how to grow carrots.

The carrot-feature never materialised. But I was impressed to get a letter with the RTE logo on it. And an adult was writing to me. To paraphrase Katy Perry: I criticised and I liked it. I relished the next opportunity to use my claws.

It wasn’t long coming. Quite why a substitute school teacher in National School decided to give us the essay title “What annoys you about your parents?” is still a bit of a mystery but I took the topic and ran quite far with it. As I read it aloud and every foible of Mr and Mrs Patrick O’Regan was trotted out for the delectation of Fourth Class, how they laughed and laughed. I felt once again the destructive power of criticism.

I couldn’t wait to bring the essay home to show my parents. “They’re going to love this” I thought. They didn’t. Normally my mother was happy to read my essays but I could see her expression change from Sunny to Heavy Wintry Showers as she read the most intimate details of the household scrawled in pencil on an Aisling copy. “What did you tell them THAT for? Ah Colm!

I learned a valuable lesson that day – that my family would not be suitable for a Keeping Up With the Kardashians-style reality-TV show. Oh, and that criticism can hurt others too.

Why does it hurt so much? One clue is in the etymology of the word itself. ‘Critic’ comes from the Greek ‘krinein’ meaning to judge. No one likes to be judged. It automatically creates two levels. And the person on the receiving end of judgement is standing very obviously on the lower step.

And the law of gravity would suggest that criticism – because it moves downward – has a much stronger effect on us than praise. Most of us will go to extraordinary lengths to shrug off praise, no matter how ludicrous our protestations – as if Superman kept saying “Sure I was passing the nuclear reactor anyway – ’twas no bother to save the world.” Criticism, on the other hand is treated with the utmost respect. Well most of it.
Which brings me back to ChaosDynamics. His YouTube profile says he’s a 20-year-old from Ireland who lists ‘trolling’ among his hobbies.

Ah yes, the troll. The modern troll is a different creature to the evil ogre that waited underneath bridges and waylaid Billy Goats Gruff. They are people – mainly males – who, for reasons best known to themselves, from the safe anonymity of their computer screens will post inflammatory comments just to provoke an emotional response. It actually sounds like good fun – like throwing snowballs at cars . But he’s not going to provoke an emotional response from me. Oh no. (Even though I nearly send the following reply.)

Dear Mr. Dynamics,

Thanks for your comment on my YouTube video. I won’t be approving it because unlike you, I can’t take criticism.

In fact I applaud your ability to take criticism. That must take real guts as criticism is a scary thing and is very personal .

I also admire the fact that like me, you don’t hide behind some sort of cod-impressive sounding username. You use your real name ‘Chaos Dynamics’. Admittedly it’s an unusual name but we can’t legislate for what our parents call us.

Best wishes on your future Youtube career. Even though you haven’t uploaded anything of your own, you are making a valuable contribution to debate in this country nonetheless.

Yours sincerely,

Colm

PS – one of these days you will meet a nice boy or girl – a real one – and you won’t be so angry about everything all the time.

But I didn’t send it. I don’t want ChaosDynamics to think he’s got to me. He hasn’t because I can take criticism. I’m fine. No seriously. I’M FINE.

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