Friday, February 22, 2013

That Was Constructive Criticism, You Fool!

Folks largely deplored the amount of backbiting and destructive criticism and cyber-bullying among genealogists in a brief but agonized discussion on Facebook last week. This was far from the first such discussion and I doubt it will be the last.

I am no fan of cyber-bullying, but usually my thoughts run in other directions:

(1) Anyone who thinks genealogy is bad this way should try reading nothing but political blogs and the comments thereon. We are paragons of decorum by comparison.

(2) Natural caution and some sort of Facebook etiquette dictates that no one ever name any particular individual or controversy in these discussions. (This also applies to non-genealogist friends I have on FB, who frequently post mood statements with no referents. It also applies to this post . . . but maybe not to later ones.) Since one person's cyber-bullying is another person's constructive criticism, I never quite know what we're talking about. Should I re-evaluate my own behavior? Or just enjoy re-evaluating others'?

(3) In my own genealogical life, I don't get enough criticism, constructive or otherwise. And I have a sneaking suspicion that few of us do.

Harold Henderson, "That Was Constructive Criticism, You Fool!," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 22 February 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]


Anne Gillespie Mitchell said...

I think I missed the facebook discussion you refer to and I'm not that sad about it. :-)

But, I agree, most of us need more constructive criticism on the work we do and we need to "publish" it more often in blogs and other easily accessible sources. How many professional genealogists have never put their work up for peer review? Peer review and constructive criticism makes us better.

Anonymous said...

I assume this is from my small rant last week. I will say that though I needed the outlet and I am better because of that. I want to stress that this had nothing to do with constructive criticism and it is definitely a bully situation. I (and a few others) have been dealing with it for about a year now and usually are very thick skinned about it. This was just a moment of I cannot take it any longer, I needed an outlet and Facebook took care of it. Not only that, it showed me that there are many out there in the same situation.

Stephanie @ said...

Criticism is one thing, but I've witnessed, unfortunately, too many people simply - or more precisely blatantly - attacking another researcher because of the software they use, the platform they choose, or the way they use a hashtag. None of these things are constructive. There are too many divisions in our community, unfortunately. I only wish for respect. I think that it's that issue of respect that crosses a line from constructive criticism to bullying. If another genealogist would like to discuss a blog post or article I wrote and show me ways that I could have approached it better or improved my research, I would welcome it. However, I don't find use in coded diatribes on social media because people won't play ball according to someone's self-declared rule system.

We're like every other group on the planet... filled with humans who contain flaws just as they contain graces.

Harold Henderson said...

Thank you for these thoughts, Anne and Terri and Stephanie!

One thing I neglected to say is that guys and gals may react differently to the same statement. And perhaps partly for that reason, I'm still not sure I can clearly specify the fine line here.

I recently posted a criticism of someone's work for which I apologized the following morning, and then was told that there was no need for the apology, what I had said didn't really have the wrong tone I thought it had. (And yes, we were both guys -- still are, actually ;-)

So . . . I'm actually contemplating a later post where I will indeed take actual situations and attempt to rank them on some kind of scale. I can tell blatant bullying from blatant respectful criticism, but there may be more gray area in between than we expect. Thanks again for making me think!

Kerry Scott said...

I could not agree more.

One of my frustrations is that I'm increasingly having to wade through the secret-code messages on social media that tell me that someone sucks, was mean, said something dumb, etc. 95% of the time, I don't know who we're talking about or what they did, but I'm being put in a position where I'm supposed to take a side. I don't like it. Other times, I DO know who's being talked about, and I don't understand why the two parties don't just unfriend/unfollow each other. Watching people constantly take jibes at each other...well, I don't like that either. It's okay to just avoid people you don't like. There's no one forcing you to read the stuff they say that bugs you. That's one of the upsides of the internet.

We're genealogists. Our whole schtick is that we look at evidence to form a conclusion. If you're unwilling to produce evidence, don't ask me to form a conclusion.