Again with the negative waves, Moriarty?


You know what gets my goat? Not haters, no. What gets me down are the happythink police who conflate negativity with abuse. Can’t be kind 24/7/365? They’ll tell me to stay apart and shut up. Might as well slap a big red “N” on my bodice and be done, but no. The judgmental assault on my chosen way of handling harsh reality–on my very identity–is all wrapped up in good intentions. 


Being told I’m unacceptable isn’t mean to be hurtful, I’m told. (And yes, I do get publicly lectured for raining on the positivity parade.) Demanding that others be positive at all times is only an emotional defense, it’s said. Insistence on constant happythink is an attempt to make the world better for everyone. 


Nuh-uh. Nope. That bullshit doesn’t fly. Defenses are self-oriented. Shine a light on inner darkness. Erect walls of happy. Paint rays of sunshine on them. Collect positives. Be positive. Those are all defensive measures.  Issuing directives to others about tone and presentation is all about suppression, dismissal and exercising social power. It’s offensive, not defensive. And yes, I mean offensive in all senses. 

 The dismissal of criticism with abuse scares me most. The emerging insistence that negatives must be presented with kindness to be considered valid/constructive/legitimate sets perilous precedents. Lumping true criticism in with destructive hostility gives trolls a shield to hide behind. (See also: “I’m just trying to be helpful.” “Fair and balanced.” “It’s just my opinion.”)

Abuse is not analytical. Criticism is. Solutions can’t be framed without undertanding the problem. The rest…that’s just style points. The definition of criticism as applied to art is “an analysis of merits and faults.” Any commentary failing that simple definition is an abusive attack dressed up in a criticism-costume.  Any commentary meeting it is criticism. A negative that leads to positive. It’s the manure every garden needs.


Here’s a less stinky analogy. Offering harsh analysis on a steely platter instead of a fluffy blanket does not make it an attack. Frank presentation of faults can be painful, but gentleness can be too. Ask anyone who’s suffered the attentions of a tentative nurse trying to find a vein. 

 It is not always constructive to mention merits. Sometimes, yes, even often, but expecting faults to be left unmentioned unless equal merits are pointed out isn’t reasonable. “If you have to say something bad, always say something good” is like saying, “If I want to discuss astronomy, I need to allow an astrologist on the panel too. For balance.” No. Merits do not always balance faults. One may far outnumber the other, and weak praise is damning. Ask Shakespeare. 

Demanding adept diplomacy as well as the effort of analysis makes people far less willing to offer criticism at all. And when that happens, art suffers. 

Here’s a related problem: insisting that only praise counts as constructive criticism. Dressing up negative analysis with puffy praise stickers doesn’t make it constructive. Context does. Constructive criticism is analysis offered while a work can be rebuilt. A critical review is aimed at the audience/market for a finished product. Period. That’s the only difference. Criticism type is defined by situation, not presentation.

If a review contains nothing but complaints, that’s as valid as one that holds nothing but praise. The only difference is in how the author feels about it. And constructive criticism that focuses with laser precision on faults is no different in function than a critique that dwells on only positives. (Again, please remember that this refers only to analytical commentary. Not things like, “This sucks.”) 

 I’ve saved the worst for last. I loathe the hoary chestnut, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything.”  If there’s ever a vote for which statement best encapsulates all that is wrong with the modern world, this one gets my nomination. It equates a lack of praise with tacit disapproval. What a mess! It creates an emotional imbalance that requires hearing praise simply to stay centered, and that leads to an escalating need for praise. Knowing that silence means people might be holding back unkind things plants seeds of doubt as destructive as dragon’s teeth.

It’s a persistent little belief, too. So popular. So hard to eradicate. Took me years to get that one out of my system.  

Creativity lives in the still, quiet spaces of the soul as well as in the raging power of anger and pain, just as it resonates in joys and flights of spirit. Silence should feed fragile inspiration, not destroy it with doubt. 

If you can’t say anything nice, say it as nicely as possible, but say it, so the listener knows that silence is not hiding unspoken faults. Trust is built with painful truths, not false walls. When silence means tacit acceptance,  confidence builds slowly with every layer of sedimentary quiet. That’s golden.

For every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under Heaven. Even the bad stuff. That’s why I’ll keep on broadcasting my negative waves whenever the situation calls for them.