First the obvious; some commentary is not intended to enlighten. It’s offered by people who seem to want to be disagreeable. So I’m learning to accept and ignore it, with some agita, I might add.
Then there’s the feedback that comes from those whose need to demonstrate superior knowledge supersedes their need to enlighten. These are a bit more tolerable because I often learn something. I tell myself that this will make me a better thinker and writer. That helps me keep my ego under control even though it’s obvious that the intention of this kind of feedback is to make the commentator look good at the author’s expense.
Of course, I can’t ignore the worst type of commentary, the ad hominem attacks directed at the author instead of the ideas. These should be the easiest to deflect but somehow I feel a need to fire back. It’s useless I know. But it sure makes me feel better.
Then there’s the type that pettifogs the issues by focusing on a word or phrase that has little to do with the main point of the piece. I can only assume that this feedback is not intended to do much more than what it does; pettifog the issues.
Very close to pettifogging is the type of comment that seems directed at something not even in the article. I think people who do this, read the headline and maybe the first paragraph, respond defensively and need to reject what they think the author meant. Obviously, it would be so much more productive if they read the entire article.
Closely related is the reader who reads but doesn’t seem to comprehend what’s written. I feel a bit more compassion for this commentator because there’s a whole lot I don’t comprehend, both on the Internet and in other mediums.
Fortunately, there is also the kind of feedback that enlightens, informs, clarifies, challenges, and improves what the author writes. And for that I am deeply grateful. I’ve had little formal training in writing since high school. I’m happy to receive as much assistance as I can get, so I welcome the exchange that comes from this kind of commentator.
In summary, I know the relative anonymity of the Internet produces a dis-inhibition effect that encourages people to write things they might not if they had to see the author on a day to day basis. But even so, there are a few things one might consider when offering commentary, especially if they want to influence the author and other readers.
First, the author is a human being with all the limitations, weaknesses, failings and flaws and of any other person. So maybe give him or her the benefit of the doubt and don’t be so quick to lash out. Second read the entire article before you comment. Third, comment away but try to couch it in intelligent and positive terms. It’s okay to agree to disagree but it’s not very effective to be disagreeable when you do it. In particular, if you want to have an influence on the author, don’t attack him or her personally.
I find writing and receiving responses to be particularly revealing since I’ve been initiated into the world of the late Jacque Derrida. This French philosopher’s work explored the concept of deconstruction. In his words, “there is nothing outside the text.”
If I understand him correctly, when we remove the sediments of meanings in our texts and get down to the original “stuff” we will meet with aporia, “a confusion in establishing the truth of a proposition.“ In other words, it’s all meanings piled on meanings piled on meanings.
And when I think that we can deconstruct the meanings of every word we use, and there are several billion people attributing their own meanings to the unimaginable number of texts in the world, I can’t imagine how anyone can take an absolute position on anything, me included. (A note to self: You’ve done it before. Don’t do it again.)
So there you have it. My little treatise on giving and receiving feedback gracefully. So, respond away dear reader. Respond away. I look forward to your feedback.
Robert De Filippis
Ps. I almost forgot. There’s the commentator that criticizes punctuation errors too. It’s useful feedback but if you’re going to critique the use of punctuation, recommend the proper usage. It’s much more constructive.