I’ve been playing around on the internet since about the mid-nineties, and I’ve noticed something: there is a lot of negativity on the web.
This was true in chat rooms, true on message boards and bulletin board services, quickly became true in the comments sections of blogs, and is now ubiquitious on social media. If you are on the web, you encounter negativity.
If you make stuff, whether it be photogaphy, video, digital artwork, music, articles, sermons, blog posts, academic lectures, poetry, logical arguments, jokes, lesson plans, or whatever, you’ll attract negative vibes. Some won’t like your work. Some won’t like that you are working. If it isn’t you they don’t like, you’ll be adjacent to someone enduring an onslaught of criticism. And it will make you wonder about your own work.
To lead, to make, to do, is to invite criticism.
When we are criticized, it hurts. Even when it comes from someone we don’t know.
Kyle Webster recently wrote about the negative reactions he received on social media after selling his collection of digital brushes to Adobe (the post includes a few graphic remarks). He asks, “Why do negative comments have so much power over us?”
He acknowledges they take hold of us. He offers a few reasons why they do so. Then, he offers one way to disarm those attacks and one way to prevent being overwhelmed by them. What does he propose?
First and very importantly, you must know and accept this about the vast majority of comments you receive online about you or your work: the people writing them have never had the pleasure of getting to know the real you. They are not your family members or friends, or even acquaintances. To them, the entirety of your being is comprised of a brief bio with a profile picture — nothing more.
Are they insulting your character, your integrity, your true self? Of course not. They are literally attacking some pixels and a few words on a screen—not a human being. Not YOU.
Let this sink in and acknowledge it as an absolute truth.
Second, try this:
- Create a folder on your desktop, your tablet, or your phone that reads, “Proof.”
- Find any email, tweet, post, comment or message from somebody who has thanked you for something you have created or written something positive about you/ your work.
- Copy and paste these positive notes into your “Proof” folder.
- Read as many of them out loud as you can any time you are letting the trolls get to you.
- Repeat as necessary.
Even if you only have a handful of these friendly comments, remember that they are of huge importance because they are undeniable proof that your actions have had a positive impact on others.
I think that is helpful stuff. I also think we can apply this more broadly.
There isn’t only a lot of negativity on the web. There is negativity out there in the world. The internet just amplifies, concentrates, and directs it, making it possible for us to hear more voices than we used to, and much more quickly. People don’t just make negative remarks somewhere we might read them or hear about them, they can get directly in touch with us, and they don’t even need a phone book.
When the criticism isn’t coming from “out there,” there is the inner critic. I subject myself to self-criticism. And because of the internet, I have more examples I can compare myself to, people who I think speak better, write better, or lead better. The internet has probably trained my inner critic in more ways than I realize. I analyze ways I could have done or said things better. This can leave me feeling as though I’ve had more failures than successes. This can leave me feeling pretty discouraged.
As a Christian person, I’ve had to learn how to defend myself against these feelings theologically. In Romans 8, Paul writes eloquently about the sufferings we now face, the life with God those in Christ have now, and the hope of a coming, future glory. Every sentence in this majestic chapter is part of a larger argument. But Christians are reminded here that we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, that God sanctifies us through our trials, that we are held fast by the love of God, and that even if we are opposed and persecuted by people, even if we are killed, we have been embraced and accepted and approved of by God in Christ Jesus, who died for us and intercedes for us even now. Criticism is for a moment, but Christ is ours forever.
While this theological truth has bolstered me (and it has helped me quite a lot!), an “Encouraging” or “Happy” folder has helped as well. It gives me a collection of temporal things that I can pair with the eternal things, things I can see and touch and experience while I await that day when the unseen becomes sight. I can be thankful for the good things, even though they are passing. I can hope in the things that will last. I have a folder like this in my desk drawer at work. I keep scraps. Pictures. Positive notes. Reminders from when things went right.
This is just another version of the “Proof” folder. Create one. Keep one. Build one. Maybe include more than something someone has thanked you for or said positively about you. Maybe include what God has said about you, the lasting things, the things that are true not because of what you have done, but because of what God has done, and who God is.