If you or anything you care about is being criticized, and if you don’t really care about truth, honor, or self correction, this article lists some strategies you can use to pretend that you are criticism-proof. The stakes are high because a snowballing criticism can be very dangerous to the reputation of a person or group, as well as to the status quo. If you don’t nip it in the bud, you could end up being discredited, fired, shunned, or embarrassed. Perhaps there is money at stake, or perhaps it’s the investment of years of your life that is to be defended. Or it could even be your own sacred view of yourself that is in need of a swift and sure defense. Regardless, if you don’t really care about the truth, but only about the appearance of being in the right, you’re going to want some really good strategies to defend yourself from those who might suggest that there is a better way than the one you currently espouse. The strategies that follow in the list below won’t convince rational people, mind you, but they are apparently very useful for convincing yourself and your irrational audience that you’re OK and that the criticism being launched against your position isn’t worth considering. So if it’s all about you, then you should find this list very helpful.
I have been carefully studying human interactions for the last few years, and have made a quick list below of some of the strategies that I have observed to be not only to be fairly popular, but fairly effective on the average American critic, as well as on the average American audience. Again, these strategies don’t work on rational, logical, and honest people, but since so many people are otherwise these days, many find these to be sustainable strategies and adopt them as a way of life. For those who use them, the primary aims are to get the critic to go away, and to use the audience’s own vices against them. If you and your audience are weak in rational thinking and honesty, you’ll find the following tactics to be quite effective.
- Just ignore it. Basically, when you ignore the criticism you are betting/hoping that the critic will quit complaining in short order and that it will all blow over. This strategy can backfire when the critic is highly motivated, however, since your silence may tend to make you look to be hiding something. One advantage of this strategy, however, is that you add no new statements to the record to be used against you later. One disadvantage of this strategy is that it tends to bother the conscience, if you have one. It also requires higher-than-usual self control as you must fight the urge to defend yourself.
- Pretend it’s just a matter of opinion. You can marginalize criticisms by saying things such as, “Well, you’re entitled to your opinion….”. If, for example, you wrote an article claiming that there are 51 states in the US and your critic says there are only 50, you can simply thank him for offering his “opinion” and then move on as if nothing happened. This works really well if your normal audience is stupid and immoral. Like everything else on this list, however, it may tend to backfire if your audience is alert and conscientious.
- Pass it off as a matter of emotion. Similarly to #2 above, you can respond by saying, “Thanks for sharing your feelings on this matter.” This tends to reframe the entire argument from a rational one to one of mere emotion. This marginalizes the criticism, of course, and stupid/immoral audiences are generally swayed by this. As in the line from the Van Halen song, a simple matter of fact can be snatched from the world of logic and thrust into the world of emotions, where it can be contradicted by illogical means: “I don’t feel tardy.” A clock and twenty-five classmate witnesses can easily prove that you are tardy, of course, but if you’d like to pretend that this is not a matter for fact and logic, but for emotions instead, give it a whirl!
- Blow it off in humor. Particularly if the criticism is stated firmly or adamantly, you can respond with some quip such as “Please tell us how you really feel! ; )” You’ll want to be sure to include the winky face (or to smile if this is said in person) because this will really help your stupid/immoral audience to make the transition from feeling the natural tension of a rational confrontation to feeling the relief in coming to understand that it’s not really that serious—even if it really is serious. Say, for instance, you just got blasted as being a hypocrite. If you use this response, you show your audience that the critic is not to be taken seriously. One drawback to this can be that, even though your normal fan base applauds your witty response, the critic may be incensed by the marginalization and may tend to pursue the matter more aggressively. You may find that you have unintentionally “awakened a sleeping giant”.
- Use your position of authority. If you are in a position of authority, you can use that to “buffalo” your critic. You can respond with something like, “This court will not tolerate this sort of insolence.” Or, “You’re out of line, mister!” If the critic is either timid or stupid, this will probably shut him down and you can pretend that the point he was making is not worthy of a direct response.
- Charge the critic with daring. If the criticism is particularly strong and weighty, you can pretend to take the moral high road by responding to the criticism thus: “How DARE you!” You must appear both angry and appalled when you say this. And it will be helpful if you are seen to repeat it at least once, as if out of an overflow of sheer conviction. This normally takes the critic aback, as it has absolutely nothing to do with the criticism he has leveled. If he is an honest person, he’ll be distracted by actually considering whether he has done something wrong in challenging you. Meanwhile, you, who simply don’t care whether you have done something wrong or not, can continue on with the task of damage control, in hopes that his challenge hasn’t swayed your audience’s opinion of you too much.
- Get your cronies to “pile on”. You can practice #1 above (ignore it) but have your supporters attack the critic for you. The higher the number, the better, for this tends to overwhelm the critic. This popular outcry can be later used to employ the logical fallacy called the “appeal to consensus” (or “argumentum ad populum“), which is very effective with most people in our society. (“4 out of 5 dentists can’t be wrong!” “300 million Americans can’t be wrong!”)
- Appeal to Expertise. When it applies, you can often derail your critic by an appeal to expertise. You can say, “Look, Billy, these policies were designed by people a lot smarter than you and me, so we’ve got to trust that they knew best.” If Billy is either stupid or striving beyond reason to be “humble” (as some religious folks will do), he’ll likely take the bait.
- Focus on an error. If your critic has made any incidental error in his criticism, focus on that in your reply. For example, you could make fun of his spelling, or his word usage. Or if he exaggerates, such as by saying “You never….”, and if you can show an instance where you once did the thing for which you are being criticized as “never” having done, then you can pretend that the gist of his argument has been dealt with satisfactorily. Once you have redirected the confrontation in this way, having your cronies pile on is especially effective. It tends to exhaust the energies of the critic.
- Appeal to tradition. If you’ve been criticized on a matter where tradition is involved, you’ll definitely want to appeal to the tradition as if it can’t be wrong. Say the critic suggests that your social organization should alter its mission statement. You can reply with something like, “This organization has a happy and time-honored tradition that we owe to this mission statement; I doubt you’re going to persuade anyone to change that anytime soon.” Be sure you say “time-honored”, because that suggests that the critic is a real square and simply “doesn’t get it”. Focusing on the tradition, by the way, changes the focus from the actual criticism to the momentum (or perhaps the inertia!) of the institution.
- Appeal to unity. If the criticism in question relates at all to a group, then you can appeal to unity in order to silence the critic. For instance, suppose he has said that the group’s secretary is incompetent and ought to be replaced. You can ignore the charge completely with something such as, “Look, we’re already struggling enough with disunity here in our organization. What we do not need now is things that are going to further pull us apart, but things that are going to draw us together.” You’ll be defending the status quo, however, and seeing to it that nothing is done to improve the functioning of the group. But you pretty much like things as they are and you don’t mind if problems remain unfixed because you are not an authentic representative of the goals and principles you claim to uphold.
- Appeal to timing. Quite like #11 above, may be able to silence the critic by suggesting that now is simply not the right time for his dealing with his criticism. You can suggest “let’s talk about that later when things settle down a bit”, knowing that you intend never to discuss it again. Or if it’s a church, you can try something like, “That’s a nice idea, Billy; we’ll take a look at teaching a class on that next Summer.” Of course, you have no intention of teaching that class, but if Billy is typical, he’ll be satisfied when you later tell him that you “tried”, but just couldn’t seem to get it on the schedule.
- Appeal to importance. “How can you be focusing on such a petty issue when our whole city/company/group/nation is facing such serious crises? Please get with the program here!“
- Spin it. “I’ve read your allegation that it was wrong of us to budget $100,000 dollars to remodel the women’s bathroom and I’m just taken back to see how much you hate women.”
- Nobody’s perfect. “Look, buddy, nobody’s perfect (so I don’t have to be perfect, either. Get off me.)“
- No institution is perfect. “Look, buddy, no institution is perfect (and we’re going to see to it that this institution isn’t perfect, either. Get off us.)“
- Change takes time. “I hear what you’re saying, but you’ve got to understand that change takes time. (Therefore, we will put off everything until later.)“
- The end justifies the means. “Look, you may not like the tactics, but look at what we’re trying to accomplish here!”
- Judge the judge. “You’re judging me! (I judge you guilty as being a judger of me. Therefore, I don’t have to listen to your criticism.)“
- Pass it off as from a critical spirit. “Oh, you’re just being critical. (And therefore, your actual criticism need not be considered on its own merits.)“
- Turn the tables.
- “Who do you think you are to criticize me?!”
- “You’re only saying that because you want to be the leader.”
- “You’re just mad because of that thing that happened the other day.”
- “You’re just mad because you weren’t elected as chairman instead of me.”
- “Oh yeah? Well, what are you doing to solve this?”
- “Pardon me, but I don’t see where your post includes any solutions of your own; it’s just criticisms.”
- Attack the tone. “Don’t you take that tone with me!” “I don’t like your tone, Mister.”
- Attack the concern. Pretend that the following popular observation is how things ought to be: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” So when you are criticized, you can protect yourself by saying, “You don’t care about me.” Then you can pretend that you don’t have to deal with the actual criticism.
- Attack the question. “You’re asking the wrong question.” After this, you can replace the challenging question with one that you’d rather answer.
- Pretend an Exemption. Pretend that the customary rules of argumentation simply do not apply to you. This is a great way to dodge the traditionally-assumed responsibility of a debater to provide support for his or her argument. You can do this in several ways, such as:
- “I do not owe you a thing. I do not need to ‘justify’ myself to you.”
- “I don’t have to explain myself to you.”
- “You’re not the boss of me!”
- Ad hominem. Many of these other strategies employ ad hominem(about the man) argumentation, attacking the messenger rather than his message. Some more classic examples of this are:
- “You’re an ex-con, so why should we listen to you?”
- “What would you know about mission statements?”
- “Sure you’d say that, because you’re a Demublican.”
- “Yeah, well you should be at home on the treadmill instead of being down here criticizing me.”
- Pretend to agree. Tell the person you agree with the criticism, when you know full well that you have reservations about it. They’re more likely to go away sooner this way. And then you can continue behaving, thinking, and believing as you did before.
- Lie. While all of the previous examples seek to sidestep the criticism in one way or another, and while many of them use manipulation and/or deceit to do it, the next level in making yourself criticism-proof is to provide a fabricated response that would tend to demonstrate that you are not guilty as charged. Popular versions of this are:
- Provide a falsified document to contradict the critic.
- Provide false witnesses to contradict the critic.
- Make up some other plausible motive that would tend to justify your criticized actions.
- Pretend that you simply chose your words poorly, and intended nothing of the sort for which you are being criticized.
- Accuse the critic of lying.
- Attack truth itself. If you want to get reallysophisticated, and particularly if the criticism in question regards something philosophical in nature, you can attack the idea of truth itself. You might try arguments such as these:
- “Well, that might be true for you, but it’s not true for me.”
- “That might be your opinion, but you couldn’t possibly know that because none of us has any claim to truth.”
- “Your criticism shows that you do not understand that there are no absolutes.”
- “Everything is relative.”
- Get rid of the critic. If you are super evil, and if you’ve exhausted the previous options on this list only to find that your critic is still criticizing you, you could resort to the following tactics, which are more popular in the United States than you might believe. (IMPORTANT NOTICE: For the record, I condone no such activity, just as I condone no other strategy listed to this point in this entire article):
- Threaten the critic with some serious harm.
- Throw him out of your group.
- Bribe him.
- Blackmail him.
- Beat him up.
- Have him fired.
- Have some false charges filed against him.
- Frame him for something he did not do.
- Defame him and ruin his reputation.
- Burn his house down.
- Tar and feather him and run him out of town on a rail.
- Kill him.
Any of these things, from #1 to #30 may well seem justifiable to a person who is not concerned with the truth as a way of life. Sadly, most of those who routinely practice the first few tactics on this list do not recognize that they are on the same slippery slope that ends up in murder. They will boast in their own defense, “I would never violate another person just to save my own reputation.” But you will probably not hear them saying, “I will never violate the truth just to save my own reputation.” (Nor, “I would never violate principle just to save my own reputation.”)
This sort of violation of the truth (and principle) is rampant in America. We lie about all manner of things and violate otherwise-lauded principles quite often. We say “just this once”, lying even to ourselves that we have done a lesser evil if it is done but once, and that we will surely have the self control not to do it again in the future.
People lie to themselves in order to escape the internal conflicts that naturally arise in the course of human life. To pick a super-benign example, what do you do when you’re writing and you choose a word about whose definition you are not certain? Do you stop and look it up, getting to the truth of the matter? Or do you let ‘er fly, figuring that if that word ends up misrepresenting what you intend to say, it’s “no big deal”? Yet it could become a very big deal.
It is this very sort of carelessness about the truth that leads so many down the slippery slope that ends up in doing harm to others. First comes carelessness about the exactitude of things, then comes carelessness about the degree of things discussed, when one realizes that it’s to his rhetorical advantage to exaggerate his argument so as to have a greater impact on his audience. He knows the exaggeration is not the exact truth, yet he refuses to call it what it really is: a lie.
Then he crosses another line when, in attempting to avoid a confrontation, he deliberately aggravates his critic by responses that are askew from the criticism leveled. When he belittles the critic with “tell us how you really feel” hasn’t he begun to cross the line about which he previously swore when he said, “I would never violate another person just to save my own reputation.“?
He is then forced to revise that statement that he made when murder was in view, and now posits: “I would never seriously violate another person just to save my own reputation.” So now he is on the slippery slope of trying to negotiate with himself just how much harm is acceptable to do to his neighbor in defense of his own reputation or position. Is he willing to aggravate another human being just to keep from honestly discussing a criticism lodged against him? If he’s willing to do this, what will he be willing to do to make the criticism stop? Will he attack the critic, or manipulate him? Will he make up lies in his own defense?
So very many people do exactly these things rarely feeling the prick of conscience about them. And how different they are from the precious few people of principle who walk among us–those who value truth and honor enough that they will deal forthrightly with every critic, even admitting admit their own fault when it is proven to the honest satisfaction of fact, logic, and sourcing.
Ironically, these are the sort of good people who most likely became as they are with the help of critics!
And now a note to the dabblers in truth: You appreciate certain aspects of the truth—the honor of it and such, but you may not be fully committed to it as a way of life. Or maybe you’ve made such a commitment in shallow terms, but have not yet established a firm policy of vetting everything you believe before you assert it to others and affirm it to yourself. To you, I say, “Come on in; the water’s fine!” Sure, it’s a fairly big leap in personal discipline to vet everything before settling on it, but the personal benefits are huge! I’ll write more about it later, but for now, consider just these few benefits:
- You get to be freed from a boatload of your previous misconceptions and misinformation.
- You find that you “get on a roll” as you go about the process of systematically reviewing everything you think you know.
- You tend to remember lots more things than before because you’re paying attention now to the actual details of things.
- Honest people (and people who want to be dealt with honestly) find you much easier to trust because they know that you don’t exaggerate and that you don’t assert things you haven’t researched.
- Your kids trust you.
- Your kids trust you.
- Your kids trust you.
- You become much harder to rattle and to manipulate.
- You learn to recognize common dodges and deceptions (such as in the list above) and are much more formidable in a debate.
- You learn to quickly size people up with regard to whether they are honest or not, whether their argument is sound or not, and what motivates them.
- You have much more peace because you live by some fundamental principles, rather than by a thousand relativistic decisions, such as “just this once” and “well, I guess that’s not too bad in this situation”, and so forth.
- When you don’t lie, you don’t have to keep track of things and you don’t get caught lying.
- You can be an authentic person, made of real principles and values, as opposed to one made up of rationalizations, justifications, defenses, and even retribution.
Now finally, to those who still want to be criticism-proof, you may not realize it, but you are capping your own personal development as a human being. If you are so afraid that some critic might just be right about some fault of yours, then you are too afraid to grow and to mature as the natural human will do. You hate it when others lie to you, yet you so willingly lie to yourself, as well as fighting against those who would tell you the truth. In this, at least, you can boast that you are quintessentially “American”, for you have a great many peers. But what good is it to enjoy the moral support of irrational and dishonest people?