5 Brilliant Ways Historical Figures Dealt With Their Haters
The world is seemingly awash in talk about haters -- how they suck, why they suck, god do they ever suck, and so on. Some of our finest minds have offered a variety of advice on how to best deal them, ranging from the obvious all the way up to, "Shake shake shake shake shake."
That said, I've been drinking five shakes a day and it's still not helping.
I don't object to having celebrities tell me what to do, because I'm less of a person than they are. But I wondered if anyone with a little more wisdom had shared their thoughts on the subject. And it turns out they had! Famous people throughout history, who I'm now calling "hist-lebrities," have dealt with basically the same issues, and have offered some really useful insights on the subject, which I present to you below, my probable haters.
This is probably the most popular tactic these days, even amongst celebrities who advocate measures beyond trembling. The general idea is that if someone hates you, that's fine, and even expected. Haters, it's said, are going to dislike things. Hating is in their nature, the only thing they know how to do, the first thing they think of when they wake up.
"THESE CORN FLAKES ARE THE WORST CEREAL EVER. I HOPE YOU GET FIRED, CORN FLAKES."
So just ignore them! Get on with your own business, whether it's working, or making art, or just banging rocks together. Various public figures have been advocating basically this approach for hundreds of years.
"The artist doesn't have time to listen to the critics. The ones who want to be writers read the reviews, the ones who want to write don't have the time to read reviews." -- William Faulkner.
"I've been reading reviews of my stories for twenty-five years, and can't remember a single useful point in any of them, or the slightest good advice." -- Anton Chekhov
There's a lot of logic to this advice. You can't satisfy everyone, and listening to critics and haters can depress you, distract you from the original intent of your work, or just waste your time. Anything you might do to satisfy or address their complaints is as likely to just create new haters as it is to satisfy the original ones. And the worst of them derive more enjoyment from hating you than from seeing you do better, anyways.
His parents were cousins, his wife is his shoe, and he has several flawlessly reasoned and spelled opinions to share with you.
And in a few specific cases, ignoring your haters is absolutely mandatory. Authors are always told to never engage with their critics or otherwise respond to negative reviews. This just never, ever works out well for the author, usually making them look like a petty idiot. Just let the haters go on hating, the refrain goes, while you go on doing great things that are hated.
Listen To Them
The problem with ignoring your haters is: what if they're right? It's hard to diagnose flaws in ourselves and our own works; we're full of blind spots and defense mechanisms that prevent us from perceiving our work clearly.
He thinks he's hitting his dad.
We can counterbalance that tendency by relying on trusted friends and colleagues to provide feedback and check our blind spots for us, but if they already like us, there's a good chance they are themselves a little blind to our flaws. There's nothing like feedback from your actual audience to see all of those, and for better or worse, haters usually are part of your audience. For that reason, more than a few historical figures have advocated doing the exact opposite of ignoring haters: unignoring them.
"Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things." -- Winston Churchill.
"It is good to see ourselves as others see us. Try as we may, we are never able to know ourselves fully as we are, especially the evil side of us. This we can do only if we are not angry with our critics but will take in good heart whatever they might have to say." -- Mahatma Gandhi
"I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses." -- Johannes Kepler
Admittedly, this is starting to blur the lines between critic and hater, and we should probably try to draw a distinction between the two. A critic is someone who genuinely wouldn't mind if you or your work got better. A hater is only interested in the criticism (also slopping around in their own shit), and would never be satisfied if your work improved.
"YOU SUCK, DAMIAN."
But from the perspective of you, the hated, how easy is it to tell the two apart? Guessing at the motivations of your critics/haters is tough, and might not really be worthwhile when dealing with YouTube commenters or the like. I'm not by any means suggesting you listen to them all intently, or for that matter, that you ever read a YouTube comment. But that gut instinct to dismiss all haters without considering their words? That might be tossing out useful information as well.
Let Them Fuel You
Another option for dealing with haters it to let their dripping crappiness inspire you. Whether it's to silence their criticisms by becoming better, or just becoming better to rub your success in the open sores they call their face, haters can provide powerful motivation if you have the right mindset.
"I'll show them whose prose is wooden and predictable."
The mindset thing is, I think, critical to the successful use of this technique, and especially the length of time you need to stay motivated for. It appears to be especially popular with athletes and people who need to motivate themselves for games or short bursts of training. I couldn't find many examples of this from historical figures, but the idea is so popular with athletes that I have no doubt that the rock eaters and spear dancers of antiquity felt the same way.
"People react to criticism in different ways, and my way is definitely to come out fighting." -- David Beckham
"I always take criticism as a challenge." -- Derek Jeter
But if you need to motivate yourself for longer, I don't know that using hater-hate as a motivational technique is going to work. Creating something like a novel, or just going through your day to day creative routine, requires a longer-term source of inspiration than just, "Screw That Guy." You'd be far better served to rely on whatever internal motivations got you where you are.
Hatred of your parents, perhaps.
A lot of the "hate" I've talked about so far can be considered more harsh criticism or dickish fan behavior rather than true hatred. The world is filled with types of hate which would defeat even the peppiest of pop songs.
"Wait, fellas! The singing blonde girl might have a point!"
Fortunately for us, the people unfortunate enough to have to deal with this non-trivial type of hate thought to record their theories on the subject in something other than pop lyrics.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite." -- Nelson Mandela
With any luck, I'll never have to deal with that kind of hatred in my life, so I'm not entirely sure how you could love someone so filled with venom. I guess it starts with being a really good person? Maybe try that out. Seems like that kind of thing would be useful in all sorts of areas, actually.
You probably get cast in way more awkward stock photos, for one.
But we can still probably use this advice when dealing with lower-key, YouTube-style haters. Even if you stop short of loving NetDickWad2380, you can at least realize that as silly and shitty as he is, he is still a human being. Whatever is making him leave hateful poop comments on all your work can be attributed to some combination of life circumstances and personality flaws that are probably causing his life more grief than yours. Whether you do anything with your art or behavior to address this hurtful poop creature is up to you (I wouldn't), but you can take a certain amount of pleasure from the mere act of feeling sorry for him.
Get Them to Do You Favors
Benjamin Franklin, although perhaps best known for inventing freedom, was wise in many other ways. At one point in his life, he developed a really ingenuous technique for dealing with his enemies: he'd ask them to do him a favor.
"Can I borrow your kite?"
This sounds exactly backwards. Isn't winning friends easier if you do favors for them? But Franklin observed that after a person has done something nice for you once, they're far more likely to do more of the same in the future. So convincing an enemy to do you a small favor would, counter-intuitively, make them more likely to ally with you. And he put this into practice. The story goes that early on in his political career, Franklin had a semi-powerful enemy who was saying some pretty nasty things about him.
"Benjamin Franklin? Guy's a couple corners short of a tricorner hat, if you ask me."
Franklin's great technique for turning this hater into a friend was to borrow a book from him. This flattered his enemy, and some time after Franklin returned the book, he began speaking to Franklin as a friend, which they'd remain for the rest of their lives.
Soren Kierkegaard stumbled across the same thing. He was plagued with what I guess were the 19th-century Danish equivalent of trolls, who hung around outside his house mocking him. As they do. But he observed that small interactions with these trolls (asking for a light for his cigarette) was enough for them to become much more cordial with him. He reasoned that when they were strangers to him, they had little invested in his success, and thus felt free to criticize him. But a small act of sharing a light for a moment aligned their interests, and made them somewhat more invested in his life.
"We're sorry we mocked you earlier, Soren. It's because you have no neck. It's ... terrifying. The rest of the townspeople are terrified of you."
It's essentially a restatement of the Monkeysphere -- it's far easier to hate someone when you don't think of them as a person. Asking people to do you a small favor is enough for them to suddenly consider you a human being, and that's enough to turn the hate right off. Obviously, employing this technique requires knowing your hater well enough to plausibly ask a favor of them, so it might not be of much use when dealing with hordes of online assholes.
But if there is any way you can ask someone to do something for you, give it a try. Not only will you get a rad favor done for you, you may just turn your hater into an acceptancer.
(If anyone can send me a better way to end that sentence, I'd be very grateful. Thanks. -- CB)
For more from Bucholz, check out 5 Expert Phrases That Explain Ideas You Should Understand and 5 Insane Things You Don't Know About Letters of the Alphabet.