I think often of a post that has sadly disappeared from the blawgosphere. Venkat Balasubramani observed a “cult of positivity” on the twitters:
A while back, Venkat Balasubramani noted the “Cult of Positivity” [I left the link in, though it’s now dead. Damn you, Venkat!] on twitter, where being nice to people you don’t know was repaid by their being nice in return.
Positivity certainly reigns supreme in the corner of the Twittersphere that I frequent, and my impression is that there are other pockets of it that are overwhelmingly positive as well. Twitter is all about highlighting positive things and people. The virtual high five or pat on the back is currency on Twitter. Indeed, research is passed around which shows that “negative remarks lead to fewer followers.” In my (admittedly anecdotal experience), while there are a few people who call it like they see it, most legal birds are effusive in their praise and quick to withhold criticism. And this extends to points of view taken, articles passed around, etc. It’s almost as if it’s socially unacceptable to say that something sucks.
That was from 2010, the early days of twitter. His observation then was not merely accurate, but prescient. And rather than a wake-up call to lawyers and law students to wake up, grow up and toughen up, it’s gotten worse.
Back then, negativity might cost you some followers, people who connected in the hope that you would praise them and they would praise you in return, turning the whole twitterverse into a huge circle-jerk of positivity, except for that handful of haters left uninvited to the happy sleepover party.
Instead, what has happened is that people who utter anything critical, or even less than effusively complimentary, come under attack by tribes, large and small, in search of offense. This came to mind following a fairly anondyne twit:
Maybe taking on debt to pay exhorbitant tuition to major in a subject for which no jobs exist is not the wisest move, and not your springboard to a financially secure future?
No one was attacked. The notion that college, and the debt that some assume, might not be for everyone, is neither a new concept nor outlandish. So naturally, someone threw a clot.
What a truly negative and tone deaf thing to say.
Nothing like condescension from someone who made it to those struggling. Hey what’s the job report for 2023 look like? I need to tell college freshmen right now what to major in. Also these millennials should stop paying so much for college. They set the rates right?
Which raises the question, if one can’t offer a view that falls shy of gushing adoration, how are we to improve? If my fly is down, I want someone to tell me, not compliment the crease in my trousers. What constitutes negativity has devolved to anything less than absolutely positive, and that means benign observations, what we used to call “life rules” like “don’t eat anything bigger than your head” are intolerable. So while we watch people make poor choices, foolish decisions, as their pals egg them on by telling them what a brilliant and awesome idea it is to jump off the roof, is there any way to say something without evoking the outrage of the cult of positivity?
There is, obviously, the option of letting them be them, as dumb as they wanna be. After all, they’re not our personal responsibility, and we’re not their father. But for people who either prefer not to see others self-immolate as their peer group of happy idiots cheers them on, or stand idle as the next generation of lawyers forgets why we exist to the detriment of the profession and, well, society, what can we do?
They don’t want to hear from us, as we aren’t telling them how fabulous they are. Do we shut up? Do we only rub tummies? It’s not a matter of shrugging off the dopey replies, but effectively communicating that they really need to pull out the nail. Is that doable anymore, or has Venkat’s Cult of Positivity won out?