Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Thumper Paradigm

One of my favorite movie lines comes from the animated Disney classic, Bambi. Thumper insults baby Bambi and Thumper's mother reprimands him, asking him to remember what his father always says. Thumper bows his head, ashamed, takes a deep breath and recites: "If you can't say something nice, [deep breath] don't say "nuffin" at all."

We like to say this in our home when the kids say insulting stuff to each other. It works as a catch-phrase, especially if you say it just like Thumper, so that it seems light and not accusatory. But it's a good rule of thumb for adults, as well.

I have a very fragile writer's ego. Another person's "constructive criticism" can lay me flat out and leave me unable to write for hours, days, or even weeks, until I manage to catch my equilibrium. Sound like an exaggeration? I swear it's not. It's God's truth.

Sue me, I'm human. I really need encouragement. Writing is like hanging your kishkes (Yiddish for guts) out there for all to see. It hurts when someone gives me even a valid criticism.

Funny how when you explain that, the people who hurt you try to tell you they are only being honest. "That's a poor word choice, there. I'm only being honest."

Sorry Chabibi (Arabic for buddy), I'm not buying it. That is stating an opinion and giving it a (fake) veneer of honest fact. Everyone is entitled to honest opinions, but opening one's mouth and sharing them is a different story. Better to stick to the Thumper Paradigm.

Thank goodness, my girlfriends are more sensitive. They are quick to make positive comments about my work and I imagine if they haven't got something nice to say, they keep it to themselves. Not because they are dishonest, but because they don't want to discourage me or hurt my feelings. And to my mind, refraining from discouraging people or hurting their feelings is a much higher spiritual level than speaking the truth.

Is constructive criticism important? Of course. But in the proper context. Watch the writer for signals. If the writer says, "Be kind. The editor tampered with this and I also had a specific readership to keep in mind," that's your key to find something, anything positive to say. And if you can't find SOMETHING positive to say, then apply the Thumper Paradigm.

My motives for writing may be sullied by my need for praise. I admit it: I gobble up praise and long for more. But there is a motive that supersedes my selfish emotional need: my wholehearted desire to assist my husband in providing for our large household. I don't think anyone could find quarrel with that motive.

So please, the next time you decide to become an armchair critic, remember the Thumper Paradigm and keep it to yourself.


  1. The Japanese will disagree with you but they start their statement with "Yes, but...." and then they will explain why they disagree BUT the conversation starts from a positive point not a negative point. I understand what you mean about needing some sort of positive feedback about your writing.

  2. I hear you. But see, they balance things because they give you something to hold on to so you don't feel like a complete bozo. You know?

    Thanks for your input! You know I value your comments.

  3. It just occurred to me that your comment is very Japanese! You sneaky little devil. *twitch.