If you can’t say something niceLY… ...could you try a little harder?

Recently, a blogging friend had one of her projects featured on Apartment Therapy. Great news, right? That’s like going to the show.

(Profanity alert:  There’s a bit of it in this clip.)

But as Bull could tell you…

…the pitchers throw ungodly breaking stuff in the show.

It’s not all fun and games in the majors. As a commenter on this blog mentioned recently, the comments on AT can be snarky–which my friend got to learn the hard way. She definitely got slammed by some breaking stuff.

I hope she takes comfort in knowing it’s not just her. Another post the week following hers generated more of the same, and some controversy ensued in the comment thread when the moderators pulled comments. AT (sorta) addressed the problem itself this week, with this post on things we can take away from anyone’s project, whether we like the final result or not.

Apparently, this isn’t an issue just for the B-list bloggers (and C/D/E/F-listers). A few weeks back Sherry of Young House Love (about as A-List as you can get in the home blogging world) wrote a whole post about dealing with criticism and responding to negative comments. It seems that even big dogs can feel a little dog’s bite.

mean-looking yappy dog straining at his leash

photo credit at end of post

All of which has produced much pondering and discussion between Cane and me–about polite discourse, the role and purpose of critique, and what all of us bloggers are doing this for anyway.

(I know I just made us sound really boring and stuffy. Maybe we are? Feel free to let us know. Really. You’ll know why we say that if you read on.)

Critiquing the critics

As we’ve been reading and talking, we’ve come to think that some responses to criticism have the potential to be as problematic as poor criticism itself. Although they come from a good place–a desire to show support and counter critique they disagree with–we think they shut down critical thought and inquiry. Maybe it’s the teacher in us, but we’re big fans of critical thought and inquiry. In fact, we think they’re really important–so important we want to talk about the problem we see with four responses in particular:

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

Some bloggers and readers of blogs seem to feel that we should just hold our tongues if the words at the tip of them aren’t “nice”–and it seems that anything less than agreement with the designer’s choices is not nice. We respectfully disagree.

We think conflicting opinions and dissent are healthy. Exposure to new ideas and different ways of thinking are the only pathways to growth that we know. Way back when in school we learned that the best way to build a strong argument is to closely study the opposing argument. We think all kinds of things are made stronger by learning about their opposition.

But let’s not confuse “nice” with “nicely.” We do think that if you can’t say something niceLY, you should probably bite that mean tongue of yours and hold it until you can figure out a respectful way to share your two bits.

churchill quotation


Don’t listen to them!  They’re just ignorant/trolls/mean/lacking taste/etc.

Sometimes it’s not just a matter of using unkind words.  Some people are mean trolls trying to stir sh!t up. True as that is, it’s not really relevant. Think of a room you’ve seen recently that you love.  We bet you don’t think the room is great because its designer is a great person.  You think it’s great because it’s got great design. Similarly, an opinion isn’t wrong because the person stating it is a jerk.

We think the best way to bolster a fellow blogger or ourselves in the face of criticism is to look at the substance of the comment and respond to it–not to the language or character of the commenter. You then raise the level of discourse higher than the gutter the troll started it in. Or, you might find out that there’s some truth in the comment, which you couldn’t initially see because of all the steam swirling around it. Even jerks can make a good point sometimes.

I'm for truth no matter who tells it.


SO many people love your work.  Of course it’s great! 

Do tons of people love your work? Awesome. It feels great when others appreciate something we’ve poured ourselves into. But that doesn’t mean it’s great work. It might be great work. It’s likely that it’s good work. But popularity (or unpopularity) isn’t really the measure of value.

You want to support someone whose work is being knocked down by others? Build it up on something way more solid than popular opinion. Talk about the great qualities inherent in the work. That’s more likely to sway those detractors–and to help the creator of the work feel good about it in spite of nasty nay-sayers.


Who cares what anyone else thinks?  As long as you like it, that’s all that matters.

Well… yes and no. You liking your own stuff is important. However, we don’t think it’s all that matters. Maybe it does if the only reason you’re putting your work out there is to hear other people tell you how wonderful it is. We don’t think that’s why most bloggers are blogging, though.

Many (like us) are blogging to be part of a conversation.  We’re doing it to learn and grow and be entertained.  We love reading about what others are doing, and we like comments and suggestions that help us do what we’re doing better.  (Some readers have done just that, and we really appreciate it.)

At the end of the day, sure, we want to like our stuff.  But what other people think is valuable to us.  Doesn’t mean we have to accept their perspective or act on it, but even ideas we reject can help us see something in a new and valuable way. Which only makes us like our stuff more.



Want a great example of what we’re talking about?

You can find it right here, on Retro Ranch Revamp.  After Kate shared her plans for backsplash tile, readers wrote in with quite a few other suggestions they thought might work better.

Kate thought this shimmery, coppery tile would make a great backsplash in her retro kitchen. Not all of her readers agreed. (Photo courtesy of Kate: http://retroranchrevamp.com/2012/02/01/kitchen-backsplash-plans/)

They made their suggestions nicely.

Kate thought about them and then tried them out with great Photoshop mockups, so that we could all see how they might work.

Photo courtesy of Kate: http://retroranchrevamp.com/2012/02/08/kitchen-back-splash-mock-up-mania/

Her conclusion:  She likes her original choice. Clearly, though, her choice is now informed by consideration of a wide range of options. I bet she feels even more confident in it than she did before others suggested different ideas.

That said…

…we think there should be a lot more civility in not just the blogging world, but the world at large.  We think the kind of anonymous snarkiness we see online is symptom of a larger problem that has our country/world in some of the messes we are mired in.

Not to get too serious (OK, we’re going to get serious), but we’ve got some huge, complex issues facing us–environmental crisis, economic instability, and educational systems that can’t keep up with the rapid pace of change are just a few.

Finding solutions to our big problems will require the coming together of many great minds. We need debate and exchanges of ideas that widen our perspective and creativity–not ones that cause us to shut down and close both our mouths and our ears. (Not to mention our hearts.)

When people respond to each other with nasty, loaded language, irrelevant put-downs, and personal attacks, it doesn’t serve any of us. Even if the topic is something much simpler than one of those afore-mentioned complex societal problems. Like whether or not we should paint wainscoting, or if a desk is too modern for the room it is in.

We think it’s great and amazing that blogging gives so many of us a chance to hear and to be heard.  We love home/family blogging because it’s helping us do a better job of impacting the part of the world we can have some real control over–our homes and the people we live with. We want home/family/lifestyle blogs to be a place where there is a healthy exchange of viewpoints. If we can do that there, maybe it can spread to other, more challenging arenas.

In conclusion…

We’re stepping down from our soapbox now, but as we do, we want to leave you with these final words:

standing on soapbox

Let’s play nice out there!  It makes the sandbox a whole lot more fun.

 So, tell us what you really think (but please, tell us nicely)

Are we out to lunch?  How has feedback helped and hurt you?  What kind of feedback is most helpful?


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Mean dog photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11362825@N03/1105174048/