Anyone who runs a website or a blog is familiar with trolls.
You know them – the evil ones who pop up from underneath a log someplace, spew forth some usually unprintable comment or begin a flame war, and leave. You are then left to clean up the mess. They’re not a new phenomenon:
Yet there is a certain race of men, that either imagine it their duty, or make it their amusement, to hinder the reception of every work of learning or genius, who stand as sentinels in the avenues of fame, and value themselves upon giving Ignorance and Envy the first notice of a prey
That was Dr. Samuel Johnson in 1750, long before the internet. But trolls aren’t the topic today. Instead, I want to talk about criticism itself, since in a strange way that is how trolls see themselves. I happen to think criticism is important, and done well it can be enlightening. Dr. Johnson believed in critics too:
You may abuse a tragedy, though you cannot write one. You may scold a carpenter who has made you a bad table, though you cannot make a table. It is not your trade to make tables.
That gets to the root of people like me (who read or watch films or eat out) criticizing works (books, films, restaurants) even though we can’t create those things (books, movies, dishes) on our own. It’s possible to be educated enough in something and to have an informed, cogent opinions without actually being able to do the thing in question. If not, why do we have sports columnists or book reviewers?
The thing about good criticism is that it’s not of the “you suck” troll variety. It is specific and measures the work in question against other works and benchmark standards as well as against the reviewer’s own experience. Not all criticism is negative either. A review that says something was great is just as useless as the “it sucked” variety if it doesn’t explain the “why”.
So ask yourself this – are you a troll in the workplace when you offer criticism without the appropriate additional information? Telling someone their work isn’t good without explaining why and helping to find a road to making it better makes you one in my book. It’s just as bad to compliment someone’s work without explaining why it’s good. How is the recipient of your nicety to replicate what made it great if they don’t know what that was?
Criticism is an integral part of daily life. The thing I try to remember is to be a critic and not a troll. Are you with me on that?