An Obama poster from 2008. The quote’s Lincoln’s. ~ ed.
Constructive Criticism and Responsible Dissent is a Sacred Service worthy of Respect & Compassion.
Criticism is a sacred duty. In parenting, a relationship or friendship, it’s fundamental to honest communication, fun, free-flowing love and passion.
But trolling is a disservice to criticism. When I insult, I objectify the other and turn them into something they are not. We see this with Fox, and conservatives generally, and their picture of Obama as a socialist Kenyan etc etc. We saw this with liberals and Dubya, and Reagan. I see this with Yogadork, and Babarazzi. Both are fun, and their criticism is necessary, and I respect and want to like them both, and I’ve hosted them both on this site. But, like Gawker—another blog with a charming, funny, strong, occasionally cruel (but, to their credit, never anonymous) voice—they sometimes enjoy their barbs too much. We should never enjoy poking others, tearing them down.
On the other hand, there are too many “news” sites that leave behind journalism for the safe and happy-happy shores of Positivity and Death-fearing Health. Top 10 Tips to Please your Boyfriend! They never wade into the slippery waters of community issues. Sites like Daily Love, Positively Positive, MindBodyGreen, Intent are all good, and strong, and healthy, and helpful—but many of them play it too safe, too often. They, like the snarky sites above, can raise their vision and purpose and service by embracing, in an directly positive or constructive way, the good and the bad of society.
Here on elephant, we seek to do both, and we mess up frequently. You know, like a relationship.
But we’re open about it, when we do, and that’s why our relationship with our public, long-term, might bear real fruit.
We don’t do controversy ’cause we’re cool, we do it to uplift gossip into uplifted conversation—which is missing everywhere, including in my Buddhist community. It’s part of our mission.
We don’t do Top 10 Lists and health and love articles because we’re playing it safe, but because it’s possible to be fun and easy to read, and helpful and relevant to folks’ daily lives, without treating them like children.
When we criticize, therefore, we walk a middle path: a Middle Way—between mean-ness and sycophancy. When, as with the Michael Roach, or John Friend controversies, we break news, we try and do so responsibly, thinking about mission (to be of benefit) first, and traffic (which we love—it’s connection with our readers) second, and money (which pays our team of editors) third. Sometimes, we don’t report controversies at all—because we see no upside, no potential constructive conversation that may come out of our work and play. And we know we’ve succeeded when both John and his few remaining fans and his many ex-students and haters feel we’ve been too mean, on the one hand, or nice, on the other. That’s the middle way.
Long-term, that means we won’t fall into the nip-slip scandals and degraded bullshit that has taken over much of Huffington Post. Long-term, that means we’re here to stay. Because if we don’t love what we do, even when it’s hard, we will, like the rest, give up when we’re tired, or sell out when it’s convenient.
All that said, what we do is far from proper journalism. None of the above is said with pride. Pride is reserved for those organizations that, buoyed by sponsors and reader subscriptions, pay their writers, and pay editors and publish quality, consistently. We’re getting close to that: we now have a team of five, and while I see the occasional embarrassing article, our volume is such that we’re rapidly becoming sometime like a child of the new media innovative, crowd-sourcing Huffington Post (which publishes 500 new articles a day) and the real-journalism, old-and-new-media New York Times, which is, you know, both an old school powerhouse and a new media pioneer.
On a personal level, let’s remember to practice criticizing those we dislike and those we feel indifferent to with the same precision and reluctance as those we love. And let’s practice criticizing those we’re close to with the same forthrightness and clarity with which we assail those we don’t know.