Everybody's a critic

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

When I was a kid, my mom constantly told me that I couldn't take criticism well. I interpreted this as criticism, responded defensively and proved her right on all accounts.

"You just don't understand!" I'd scream as if she had never been a teenager.

My mother's criticism was minor compared to the way I'd beat myself up over my mistakes. If I fared poorly on an exam, I'd sit in my room for hours ruminating in angst. I once cried for hours because I gained a couple of pounds while dieting. I'm not sure why, but I felt immense pressure to succeed at everything I did. Failing terrified me.

During college, I began to take criticism better from others. That was the first time I can recall believing in constructive criticism. My professor didn't like my use of passive voice in a paper, so I fixed it. My boss asked me to act more professional, and I did.

I did these things in the hope of improving myself, but that doesn't mean I stopped criticizing myself. Outside criticism stung a bit, too. It still does, which makes my job difficult at times. As a reporter and columnist for Carroll County News, I know I'm going to write pieces others disagree with. I didn't actually experience this until last week, though.

Last week, I wrote a column about the bullies I overheard at the Carroll County Fair Pageant. My columns are usually met with a small response, so I didn't expect this one to take off the way it did. It was shared online more than anything I've ever written has been. A few people emailed me expressing support, too.

Of course, I received negative feedback as well. Anything that reaches a large number of people will generate some backlash; I have seen this firsthand from the way my friends share articles online. Still, I didn't know what to do about the criticism at first.

My first instinct was to defend myself, but I didn't do that. My second instinct was to beat myself up over the way I wrote the article, and I did do that. Was the criticism deserved? Should I have written the column differently? Should I issue an apology? Should I pull it from our website?

After calming down, I realized that the column had done exactly what any writer hopes his or her work will. It had started a conversation. Sure, part of that conversation was about whether or not I had handled the situation professionally. But I wrote it. I brought that criticism directly on myself, and it's my responsibility to own it.

While I appreciate the positive feedback I received, I'm just as grateful for all those who disagreed with the column. Our society needs to have a conversation about bullying, and we can't have any conversation without people arguing back and forth. If executed properly, arguments lead to solutions. I'm happy to be part of that argument.

Since I work in the public eye, people will always be critical of me. I just hope I can use that criticism to become a better journalist and a more empathetic human.

Working in a community as passionate as Carroll County certainly helps with that.

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Samantha Jones is a reporter for the Carroll County News. Her email address is CCNNews@cox-internet.com