Negative feedback is inevitable. As we say at The OpEd Project, if you say things of consequence, there may be consequences, but the alternative is to be inconsequential. However, not all negative feedback is created equal. Some of you get some great constructive criticism in comments, via email, and from other people in your communities, things that will enrich and improve your understanding of the issues and that will perhaps change, and at the very least strengthen, your arguments. Value that, even when it’s hard to hear. Others have had less helpful experiences – ad hominem attacks, derailing, and feedback from people who aren’t really listening to your arguments. When I’m out in public making a case for my ideas, the general rule I apply is that if someone is arguing with me respectfully and in good faith, it’s worth my time to engage with them. The OpEd Project is a diversity of ideas project, and we should all feel as though we have the right – and the responsibility – to voice disagreement, as long as we do it respectfully. If someone disagrees with me but they’re not fulfilling those two basic requirements, I walk away.
Another important question that I ask myself when someone is disagreeing with me is whether they’re addressing what I said and not what I am. Below is the commentator Jay Smooth, a leading popular thinker on race, gender, and hip hop, on that distinction.
As Jay points out, the “I think you are a racist” (or other ad hominem whatever) conversation is not the one you want to be having – and it’s not one you want to engage in when someone tries to have it with you. Part of getting into that habit of doing thought leadership is learning to recognize the difference between those conversations, and making sure that you’re having the right one.