Criticism, even the useful and constructive kind, is generally not overly pleasant to receive. If you’ve poured your heart and soul into something – or even just an afternoon’s vaguest imitation of concentration as you covertly watch Leveson at the same time – it feels pretty rotten to have someone else come along and pick it apart.
But being on the receiving end of criticism is part of life, and learning how to deal with it is one of those things that marks us out as proper grown-ups rather than petulant children.
In some lines of life and work, other people having opinions – critical and otherwise – are more prevalent than others. One of those lines is writing, in almost all its forms. If you’re not happy for people to pass comment on what you write, don’t put it out into the public domain.
On Saturday, as I sat in the Bread Room with coffee, I ploughed my way eagerly through my copy of The Times. It was bloody marvellous. Janice Turner’s piece on not being defined by the man in one’s life was the best thing I’ve read in a long time, to the extent that I rootled around Twitter to find her, and let her know; and there was also a great piece on the rise in anti-male sexism that gave pause for thought.
One piece, however, that didn’t do anything for me was a column by Giles Coren. Centred, as it was, on his daughter, I thought it came across as self-indulgent and unimaginative. That’s my opinion – I’m entitled to it. I said as much to a friend on Twitter where, as we discussed the merits of the paper, I referred to the article as “simpering”. She clearly felt more strongly, referring to it as “gibbering child-idolising classism,” and later in the day, said as much to the man himself.
His response could not have been viler.
Before anyone points it out to me, I am not discussing the rights and wrongs of her original tweet, or whether namechecking Coren in such a way was provocative or uncalled for. It’s a distraction that doesn’t deal with the issue I’m talking about here, which is that the acceptable response to criticism is never a nasty, slanderous and personal attack.
As someone who scribbles away in this little corner of the internet, I can understand that it’s uncomfortable to have one’s carefully-penned words ridiculed by the people who read them – especially on topics that are close to the heart.
But that’s life. It’s full of things we don’t like, and leafy, green vegetables we’d rather not eat. As I’ve already said, dealing with these in an adult and sensible manner is what separates us from the two-year olds hurling their possessions out of the metaphorical pram, and themselves onto the floor in a kicking, screaming tantrum. Criticism happens. If it’s fair, take the point on board. If it’s not warranted, ignore it. If it happens on Twitter and it really gets to you, block the offender, for Pete’s sake. But don’t go batshit crazy on them.
Clearly, Alice’s tweet touched a raw nerve in Coren. Maybe underneath the posturing exterior, he knows that writes too much about his daughter, and to have it pointed out in black and white that he now bores his readers was just too much to take. Or maybe he’s just a bit spoilt and used to getting his own way.
Coren’s rebuke in this case wasn’t measured; nor was it proportionate; nor, in its vehemency, justified. It was a hateful and misogynistic overreaction to an opinion shared, I feel I’m right in saying, by more than one Times reader, and if Giles so hates the thought of people holding his writing in such poor esteem and daring, by God, to say so, then maybe his chosen career isn’t for him?
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