“There is one way to avoid criticism: Do nothing. Say nothing. Be nothing.” says Aristotle. Criticism comes with breaking new ground. Criticism comes with putting yourself out there. But how do you respond when that criticism turns to hatred?
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Hatred is a hard thing to handle, particularly when you feel it is unjust. But I'm writing this for you today: DON'T LET IT STOP YOU.
Theodore Roosevelt's Man in the Arena
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Theodore Roosevelt, Excerpt from the Speech “Citizenship in the Republic” given at the Sorbonne in Paris, France April 1910
We are all people of the arena. Every human has to cope with this question:
What to Do When Someone Hates You
Hatred is a hard thing to handle. Humans usually possess a “me-centric” view of the world. We've all seen how two good people can have a vastly different opinions. It happens. No matter what you do, how kind you are, or anything else, I promise you this: In your human-ness, you will attract haters. No way around it.
Haters are an inevitable part of life if you're accomplishing anything of worth. You can decide what to do about that.
It will also shock and surprise you just how long some people will nurse hatred. It can be years later and they're still hanging onto something that you barely remember.
Tip 1: Not Every Criticism Is Motivated by Hate
A person giving you constructive criticism wants to help you improve and become better.
A hater wants to hurt you and wants you to die.
Determine if love or hate is the basis of the criticism by recognizing who criticized you and how they gave it. What was the intent? Help or harm?
Why Do We Notice the Negative?
You can be in a crowd of ten thousand and give an incredible speech. One critic blasts you on their blog or on Twitter, and what do you notice? You don't see those hundred positive tweets — you see the one negative.
You can captivate your whole classroom except for one student who has decided to dislike you. You don't relish 29 joyful, happy, learning kids — you languish because one student (and usually their parents) doesn't like you. (I've been there — and goodness –, it's hard when this happens!)
Tip 2: Reject Critics Math
Jon Acuff talks about this phenomenon in his book Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work that Matters calls this “critics math.” Jon says:
1 insult + 1,000 compliments = 1 insult
He goes on to tell the story of Larry David, creator of the hit TV show Seinfeld. Larry went to New York and attended a ballgame. When the organizers spotted him in the crowd, they showed his picture on the big screen and played the Seinfeld theme song as the entire stadium stood and applauded.
After the game as Larry walked to his car, a stranger drove by, rolled down his window, and yelled,
“Larry, you suck!”
Which did Larry remember later? The one stranger who said that he sucked.
Are you kidding? One rude person can erase 49,999 giving you a standing ovation?
This math doesn't make sense.
The first step in overcoming critics math is to realize that you're doing it and refuse to go there.
Tip 3: Keep Perspective
I deal with the haters by admitting that there's room enough in this big wide world for both of us.- Good people can dislike me. I can even dislike good people. Good and evil aren't determined by whether people like you or me. This perspective helps.
I recall a professor in college who drew a little x at the corner of the board. Across the board he drew a cloud.
He points at the cloud and says, “This is the universe.” He walks across the front of the room to the tiny x and tells the class, “This is you.” Then, he says something profound. “Notice that you” (pointing at the x) “are not at the center of the universe” (pointing at the cloud.)
Tip 4: Center Your Thoughts in Healthy Ways
Nope. I'm not the center of the universe, and neither are you. But we can choose to center our thoughts daily. When hate rears its ugly head — it hurts us. – And yet centering our thoughts gets easier with time. Focus on your goals. We've got things to get done!
Tip 5: Focus on the Likers, Not the Haters
Stop focusing on the futile: You probably can't make the haters like you.
Instead, focus on the people who actually do like you. Spend time cultivating those relationships and perhaps they'll come to love you (and you them).
Focus on helping and serving others and being kind. Choose to ignore those who may be speaking negatively about you — that can quickly become paranoia. Usually, it turns out that people aren't even talking about you at all. I hate to tell you what I tell myself: You're not that important. Keep perspective and keep to your task.
So, decide. We've already heard Theodore Roosevelt tell us clearly, “It is not the critic who counts” but why do we give such things power over us? Why should we let haters distract us from living an epic life?
Tip 6: Celebrate Good Times and Progress
My first boss sent a memo to his manager praising my performance. He brought the copy to my desk and I was so excited. I couldn't believe it. Then, he told me something I'll never forget.
“Create an ‘atta girl' folder for those hard days. They'll come and you'll need to remember who you are and who you can be. This is your first ‘atta girl.' Keep it.”
I still have the folder and made one in Evernote so that I can always get to it. “Atta girl” has pulled me through dark days when I failed at something.
We all fall. I fail. You fail. It's part of life.
Tip 7: Keep Moving Forward
Failure becomes permanent only if we stop trying. It becomes success when we learn from it. It also helps to remember the good days when the bad days come.
But let's be clear about the difference between failure and criticism. Criticism is not failure. Having a hater is not a failure. Being criticized and having a hater is part of being human.
Dr. Phil Adler, my favorite professor, always talked about racism and sexism and how to overcome the. He'd tell us that there were people who would not want us to be included in conversations because of our gender or race.
“Be so good that they can't ignore you,” he said.
The best revenge is success and proving them wrong.”
Ever since that moment in class, I've repeated this thought when faced with a hater targeting me or my gender.
Tip 8: Be Excellent in Your Work.
Your best revenge against haters is proving them wrong. Succeed and work your best to do a fantastic job at whatever you're called to do.
Some people want swift justice because their me-centered world demands it. Well, life is a marathon not a sprint. Be a turtle (as I share in Chapter 13 of Reinventing Writing).
Who Hating Really Hurts
Hating hurts the hater most of all. I read a story of the freed slave Frederick Douglass riding a train through Pennsylvania. He was told to ride with the luggage, and several white passengers came back to the luggage car to express how upset they were. Douglass responded by telling them that he was not degraded but that those who did this to him were degrading themselves for treating a fellow human being with disrespect. (Paraphrased from a story included in Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington.)
Tip 9: Commit Not To Hate
Hating is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
Hating is like tying a dead body to your back — the body doesn't care that it's lashed to you, but you bear the burden.
Hating hurts the hater most of all.
When you are bothered by a person's hate, it gives them power over you. They can rejoice because they ruined your day. Their purpose is wounding you and causing you pain, and they'd probably be happy only if you were dead. Since there's nothing you can do to make them happy you have to learn to live with it!
Tip 10: Live Life!
And live with it you do! But do more than just live — thrive and succeed and enjoy your life. Fulfill your mission and spend time your loving the 99.9% of people who don't have a problem with the fact you're breathing air at this moment.
Life is too short to make a big deal about a small person. And hate does exactly that — it has a way of making the person on the receiving end feel smaller and less incapable of success.
So, my friends — forgive and move on. Do whatever it takes, but let go of hate. If someone hates you, sing the song from Frozen and “let it go.”
Haters are gonna hate. The question is: what will you do about it?
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Thank you Vicki. This means a lot to me personally. I needed to hear this after some events that happened last school year .
Michele- it is hard to get over pure unadulterated hatred. I am glad to hear my own struggles have given helpful insight to you! It is crazy how many messages I have gotten on twitter on this one post! This seems to be a very common issue, particularly among teachers and leaders! Keep on plugging and move ahead!!Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher
This is a great article Vicki. There is a lot of power and a lot of sense in your words. The Theodore Roosevelt quote spoke volumes to me. I think I will have to treasure its message forever. Your ten suggestions are great. I really identified with #6. Years ago, long before the advent of personal computers and Evernote, I made a book I called my “Feel good about myself book”. In it I put certificates and awards and even more precious things like letters from students, parents and colleagues. Any time I was feeling down about what I was achieving, wondering if I was having the positive impact I desired, or just wondering if all my efforts were worthwhile, I would get it out and read through it. It wasn’t long before I was feeling affirmed and positive again. I recommend a “Feel good about myself” book to everyone, regardless of what format it takes. Thanks for sharing this great post and wonderful suggestions.
You are so right Norah! When the feelings of inadequacy plague my-my attagirl folder reminds me that even though I have setbacks and failure – as we all do- that there are ways my life has made a positive difference in the lives of others!! Thanks for sharing what you do!Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher
Thank you so much for this article. This truly reminds me of where my focus should be directed. Last year was a rough school year, and this helped put some things in perspective. As I read I was reminded of Zora Neale Hurston’s “How It Feels to be Colored Me.” We have to keep sharpening our oyster knife and focusing on living a happy, peaceful existence.
Thanks Kelle for mention of that book- I am looking for it now! It is so hard to handle this – it has been in my life lately as well- it doesn’t get easier but these steps helped me this week when a person who developed a dislike for me back 8 years a go showed again that her hatred lives. Crazy isn’t it? I am sadder for her than me. Life is too short to carry that poison in your heart. Thanks for commenting!!Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher
Wow! Really great stuff. Thanks so much for sharing.
Glad you find it helpful, Joel. It seems to be resonating with many people on Twitter, that’s for sure.
I will need to read this once a week to remind myself to stay focused and not “give away” my happiness to the haters. I constantly get sucked in and it is completely draining to keep thinking about all that negativity. Thank you for this
Wow, Paula! Thank you for being so open and honest. I think this is a problem for so many of us. I’m astounded how many times this is being talked about and shared. The story about the creator of Seinfeld is what helps me most — critics math is preposterous but so many of us do it. It helps to keep perspective that is for sure. Thanks for sharing. Every comment may help another on their journey.
Paula – I’m so glad it is helpful! This is something I’m constantly pondering myself. ;-)
I am a frequent reader of your website, but this is the first time I have commented on a post. I have recently resumed updating my own Edublog after realizing how much I’ve missed the blogging world. What a great way to share experiences and ideas with others in the profession!
It was very refreshing to read this post. This is definitely a topic to which all teachers can relate. In some ways, being a teacher is like being a mini-celebrity: everybody knows who you are, and everybody has an opinion of you, and those opinions cover a large spectrum, from “I hate her!” to “She’s the best teacher ever!” and everywhere in between.
Critics Math definitely rings true: more of us are apt to pay attention to the negative comments made than the positive. As a relatively new teacher, I have sometimes found myself feeling insecure about my teaching abilities because of negative comments made by students here and there, but this entry reminds me to keep those comments in perspective.
Thank you for writing this piece. I will have to bookmark it and come back to it again when school resumes.
Hi, Vicki. I chose to peruse your blog for my Computers in Education graduate class and I am so glad I did. Hate is so strong a word but someone definitely “dislikes” me. I needed this blog entry to remind me that not everyone is going to like me, that most people do, and I need to stop concentrating on the one person who doesn’t. The math DOES matter. I can choose to be successful and succeed. I can choose to keep at it when I fail. I hope YOU keep on encouraging people. You have encouraged me. Kay B.
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