The death of civility?

As a professional writer and avid reader, sometimes, something falls into my lap that is just written way too well for me to try and mold into my own words.

Something that captures my own thoughts so precisely and eloquently.

That’s how I felt when I stumbled upon this piece, written by author Jodi Picoult, who shared her thoughts on her personal newsletter and Facebook page.

I’ve often written about my dismay at the “hot take” world around us, especially when it comes to politics. I would like nothing more to see a reawakening of civility.

My favorite line: “Kindness is currency.”

Here are Picoult’s words:

“Dearly Beloved,

“We are gathered here today to mourn the death of civility. Of all the many losses we have experienced in this pandemic, this is one of the most glaring. Maybe you have noticed rudeness blooming in everyday situations as we move out of lockdown and into a socialized world again. Opinions are not just shared, they are now trumpeted, and if they flaunt science or facts, so what? It is as if the pandemic has given some the belief that their innermost thoughts are not just worthy of being aired …. They are credos everyone else must be subjected to.

“As an author, I have a public presence. I know that part of the gig is hearing criticism about my writing. That’s cool. I’m old enough to know that not every book will please every person. I also know how hard I work on each novel, and have a deep sense of pride in that. Part of my job is being on social media. I get to interact with my readers personally and that is awesome 99% of the time.

“Then there is the other one percent. Those are the folks who reply to a benign post ‘Wish You Were Here: coming 11/30!’ with a variant of ‘I sure hope it’s better than your last book because I couldn’t get through that one.’ Or see my new profile pic and respond: ‘Nice pic. Your writing has gone downhill ever since “My Sister’s Keeper.”‘

“Are these readers entitled to their opinions? Sure! They might even use their own social media accounts to air them. But tagging me, or posting on my own social media makes me wonder…why? What do you hope to get out of that? Do you expect me to agree with you? Having a negative opinion is one thing; believing that the person you are criticizing must hear it is another. Imagine walking up to a stranger on the street and saying ‘Is that your baby? I think she is really ugly. Just my own opinion, of course! Bye!’

“We are told as authors never to comment on bad reviews; critics (and readers) are entitled to their thoughts. But I also know that even when I dislike a book as a reader, I can usually find something positive to say about it in a positive forum and I keep the criticisms to myself. I recognize the time and energy that went into that product, even if it wasn’t my cup of tea. If I don’t like a book, it may not be the fault of the writer at all. It may be something I wasn’t in the mood to read at that moment.

“I realize that I’m breaking my own rules. I’m complaining in public. I’m sending you a newsletter of my thoughts right NOW, for goodness’ sake. But you signed up to receive this newsletter, which suggests maybe you were interested in hearing what I say. I just want to remind you that there is a way to be heard, and also to be civil. Kindness is currency. Before you post, think of who will read it, and if it will lift them up…or drag them down.

“I’m not a fragile flower. I can take criticism. But there is a difference between measured, constructive feedback and snark for the sake of being snarky. I urge you to not hit that reply button without asking yourself ‘How would I feel if someone dropped into my feed and said this about me?’ Honestly, this past year has been crappy enough. We could all use a little less mean, and a little more joy.”

Jeremy Speer is the publisher of The Courier in Findlay, Ohio, The Advertiser-Tribune in Tiffin, Ohio, and Review Times in Fostoria, Ohio. He can be reached at jeremyspeer@thecourier.com or jspeer@advertiser-tribune.com.


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