Fashionable Excuses

Seth Godin has a remarkable ability to deal with the complexity of human behavior in short, astute bursts, and his posts have provided me with a great deal of insight. But as with all bloggers (myself included), not every post is a winner.  This one was a mutt:

Vampires, of course, feed on something that we desperately need but also can’t imagine being a source of food.

You have metaphorical vampires in your life. These are people that feed on negativity, on shooting down ideas and most of all, on extinguishing your desire to make things better.

Are there “vampires,” assuming you’re into the fashion trend of analogizing the world of the living to the world of the undead? Of course there are. What does Godin suggest be done about them?

Your garlic is simple: shun them. Delete their email, turn off comments, don’t read your one-star reviews. Don’t attend meetings where they show up. Don’t buy into the false expectation that in an organizational democracy, every voice matters. Every voice doesn’t matter–only the voices that move your idea forward, that make it better, that make you better, that make it more likely you will ship work that benefits your tribe.

Eh, hang on a sec, Seth. You jumped over a huge problem here, and ended up in a very dangerous place. It’s not that there aren’t vampires, but the trick is distinguishing valid criticism from knee-jerk negativity.  And the problem is that your simplistic expression of the problem and cure jumps the shark.

Tough times, combined with no shortage of cheerleaders, have given rise to a wealth of ideas that are proclaimed “innovative” and/or “disruptive.”  They love their own ideas. Most people do, Seth. They think their ideas are brilliant, fabulous, special.

And anyone who doesn’t agree is a vampire.  See how that works?

Unethical? Vampire.  Deceptive? Vampire. Dangerous? Vampire.

Giving them “permission” to shut out anyone who doesn’t adore them as much as they adore themselves is irresponsible.  So what if some innovative idea will end up harming others? Nobody has to listen to the vampires. Just scream “lalalalala” as loud as possible and ignore the naysayers. They’re just vampires.

Professional ethics is supposed to be a code by which we lawyers operate to ensure that we are maintaining the highest level of integrity as we practice law. Unfortunately, many experienced attorneys have taken to using the word “ethics” and all of its connotations as a weapon against any attorney serving their clients in a way with which the criticizing attorney is unfamiliar or does not approve. Sadly, given that young and innovative lawyers are blazing a trail for new ways to both practice law and deliver their services, we tend to be the target for such ridicule.

The trick, Seth, is being sufficiently metacognitive to be able to distinguish between the valid and knee-jerk criticism.  The interwebz are filled with positivity, no matter what the view. There are entire communities dedicated to the idea that it’s cool to shoot cops, or step on small animals for sexual fulfillment. These are some sick people, but they are empowered because others cheer them on, agree with them, bolster their views.

So you think they’re sick? That makes you the vampire, Seth. Me too.  No matter how bad the idea, there will be a place to go where someone will share the stupid, the unethical, the deceitful or the dangerous and respond, “you go, girl.”  And anyone who says otherwise is a vampire.

But that’s not what you mean, right?  Except you provide the excuse without providing the means of distinguishing between the vampire and the, what other critter is fashionable at the moment, werewolf?  By urging the dangerous to shun anyone who tells them they’re dangerous, you empower people to do harm and ignore anyone who disagrees.

Maybe those who try to protect the innocent from harm are your vampires. Maybe they will be seen as vampires regardless. But it’s better than being a zombie. See? I can make a fashionable excuse too, but it’s no more helpful than yours.

5 thoughts on “Fashionable Excuses

  1. Amy Alkon

    I pay an editor to read my work and tell me I suck — that my writing is murky, windbaggy, and unfunny, and that I got the science wrong. It’s by being criticized like this that I can make the column I write the best it can possibly be before I send it out.

    That said, I know better than to take criticism from just anyone. Regarding my writing, I listen only to people whose minds and literary judgment I respect.

    Another right-on post, Scott.

    1. SHG Post author

      I have no editor (as is no doubt obvious) to tell me that my posts suck, but I have thousands of lawyers, prosecutors and judges who are only too happy to let me know when I make a mistake. I appreciate that they do, even if I disagree with them as it forces me to think.

      But then there are a number of lawyers and judges who I know and respect very much. When they tell me I’m wrong, they’re almost always right. And I learn.

    2. Turk

      Regarding my writing, I listen only to people whose minds and literary judgment I respect.

      The problem with that, of course, is that you don’t know whether to respect the mind and judgment of the person until you read the criticism. There should always be room for new voices, or we all stagnate.

  2. Alli G

    I’ve been noticing I crave more and more negative feedback. I find myself saying, “Yeah, yeah. But if I wanted to hear why this was good, I would have just asked my mom. Tell me what’s wrong with it. And be brutal if you have to.” Not all negative feedback is good or relevant, just like not all positive feedback is good or relevant. But if you don’t get used to taking it, you’ll never be able to make smart decisions about what to keep and what to leave behind. Besides, it’s fun. Some of the most interesting conversations I have start with negative criticism.

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