The Gentle Art Of Criticism

The phrase about crushing your enemies and driving them before you has gotten a certain publicity these days. I suspect that before it became a meme on Facebook, it was something taken from Conan The Barbarian. Or possibly the constitution of the Country Women’s Association. Whichever, it has become stale…time for an update.

Note: We update many things; cars, firmware, cyclone warnings. We backdate things; pay increases, sentences, holiday schedules. We even forward date things – the post-dated cheque that allows us to flee town being the first example to mind…But we never seem to downdate anything. I think we should. Leftovers in the fridge would be good to downdate. A quick sniff and a prod at the congealed surface and we could okay the stuff for two more days.

I don’t want to crush enemies. It’s not because I am a good and kind person – I just don’t want enemies. Enemies take time, effort, money, and deep thought…at a time in my life when I dearly want potato crisps, beer, and naps. Enemies are a negative investment, and never yield a profit. Crushed enemies would be even worse, as they would spread more widely and ruin the carpet.

On the other hand, I am delighted to crush friends. They are much more likely to scream and thresh about begging for mercy. They are easier to contact and less likely to suspect the horrible fate that awaits them. You can crush several before lunch with little effort. And the best ones will pick themselves up, heal over, and present again for a repeat of the terror. They are an economical target.

What has this to do with criticism? Well you must be gentle and kind whenever you correct another’s faults. Otherwise they get the pip and leave in a dudgeon and you cannot attack them again. Easy does it. Take the skin off in thin layers.

Naming And Shaming

I sat down the other day and wrote out a list of people I know. Not just ones I recognise on the television or have run across in a shop, but people I am personally acquainted with. I wished to name and shame them…or at least threaten to do so. I hoped to elicit money from them to suppress the evidence.

I was saddened to realise that:

  1. I have no evidence on the moral ones. These are the people who would be desperate to pay me off. With no juicy scandal, I have nothing to lever the money out of their pockets.
  2. The ones who are not moral leave great trails of shame behind them, but feel none of it themselves. They would not only welcome my trumpeting their sins to the world, but would probably benefit from it.
  3. None of them have enough money to be in a position to hand it over in unmarked paper bags. I steer clear of most of them because they are looking for loans. And I can only do that old trick with the $ 6.00 bills so many times…

The history of commercial silence ( AKA blackmailing ) abounds with stories of successful stings. Incriminating notes and photographs are hinted at, the hint takes hold, and the cash flows out. Occasionally the victim resorts to the police and occasionally to a revolver. The really courageous ones go on national television and confess their sins with tears and sobbing. If they are good at it – really good like some of the TV evangelists – they can come out of it better off than before. And very little of the new money that flows into them through true believers will then go to the blackmailer.

The ideal thing is to find a rich person who fears poverty ( well, they all do…) and realises that shame will be bad for them. They are willing to pay to stave this off. Of course, if the price is too high or the scandal too deep, they are also willing to pay to have the blackmailer rubbed out. You need to look at the figures closely before you make that first telephone call.

Note to overseas readers: It is futile to blackmail an Australian with threats to reveal their convict ancestry. They revel in it. It is hard enough to threaten them with a convict future…

Riding The Horse – Part Nine – You And The Other Hobbyists

We have been told that no man is an island. Possibly; but I’ve met a few sandbars in my time. However you find ourself interacting with the bulk of mankind, as a hobbyist you will find yourself in a somewhat special relationship with other hobbyists. It is somewhere between love and hate, but at 90º to the paper upon which the graph is drawn.

How should you deal with others? How should they deal with you? Let’s divide your interactions and attitudes into two classes; bad and good. Bad first:

1. If another person who is not a hobbyist laughs at you and belittles your activity, you are understandably miffed. But as they are not initiates into the craft, their opinion can be thought of as counting for little.

Should they be in the same hobby as you, the thing becomes more serious. You are offended far more than with the outsider. After all, hobbyists should stick together. And who is this person to denigrate you when they do much the same?

2. If a person who is an expert in your hobby criticises you, the question becomes more delicate. They may be trying to help you improve your performance, but lack the people skills to out they point across in a pleasant manner. As well, they may be wrong.

3. If someone praises your efforts but praises the wrong thing about them  ( Oh look at the darling little coffee cup in the hand of the figure…” ) they are a particularly cloying and irksome form of critic. They may be sincere and ingenuous, or they may be cynical and calculating; you never know.

4. Other hobbyists may be competitors for prizes, places, and scarce materials. If they are the sort who always know where to get the things that you can never find  – or buy up all the supplies of what you need to keep as a hoard, they can actually stop you from doing your thing.

Now for the good side:

  1. Other hobbyists may be genuine in their praise or gently helpful in their criticism.
  2. Other hobbyists may know pitfalls that you can avoid or short-cuts that you can use to advance.
  3. Other hobbyists may have new ideas that you would never think of – they might take the risks while you take the success.
  4. Other hobbyists can be infinitely patient and sympathetic to your efforts. Or generous with goods and supplies.
  5. There is strength in numbers. One person dressed in a tutu may be laughed at but a whole Corps du Ballet is a force with which to be reckoned.

Make as many friends in your hobby as you decently can, and as few enemies as possible. In the end define the hobby for yourself and hew to your own line.

The Childhood Friend

Are you a child? Do you have friends? Are you aware that one of them will become a famous scientist, one a renowned entertainer, and one a serial killer? That’ll dispose of three, and all the rest will be insurance salesmen, cocktail waitresses, and dry-goods clerks. In your case you’ll be lucky to get out of the neighbourhood ahead of the mob armed with the torches and pitchforks.

Childhood friends are a little like childhood cousins. You get to interact with them and have a sort of a family connection for awhile without being required to save them when they fall down the old well. That’s Lassie’s job. You can watch with interest their future progress and you never have to claim any debit for it – only credit. If they make good, you knew ’em when…if not, you didn’t. And you need not worry about what they think of you because chances are they don’t.

Childhood enemies are similar – but you are not required to be pleased for them when they make good nor grieve for them when they finally end up just like you said they would. Being from the long past, anything they do wrong cannot be sheeted home to you – unlike present work colleagues or acquaintances. There is a bigger circle of blast around people you have interacted with as an adult compared to the ones of childhood.

If you meet an old childhood friend on the road take the Buddha advice. If they claim friendship, run away from them. Remember that when you were young it was no great honour to know you and it hasn’t gotten any better.

Do We Know Who Our Enemies Are?

And I am not talking about political enemies, class enemies, or national enemies…You can leave those to the government to deal with. They’ll make ’em for you and then arrange for you to meet them when it is most inconvenient.

I’m not even including hostile institutions or businesses – the organisations or groups that plot your destruction during secret meetings in dark caverns. These are a normal facet of life.

I’m thinking about personal enemies – private individuals who hate you. People who would get at you if they only could. They come in different varieties:

a. Someone whom you have wronged. Stolen their treasure, perhaps, or murdered their father in a duel. Seduced their wife/husband/partner/lawnmower man. These are persons who contemplate a blood feud but cannot decide yet which of your veins to open.

b. Someone whom you have done a favour or service for. This can be a potent source of enmity, particularly if the good deed was observed by others and required an equally good deed in return…that was never done. Your enemy is enclosed in a guilt-edged cage.

c. Someone of whom you have been contemptuous. Even if this is no more than a word or a glance, you can be sure that it is the deepest poisoned cut of all. If you have made your contempt amply plain in public, expect no abatement of their anger.

d. An ugly person, if you are beautiful, or a beautiful person, if you are ugly. Whatever a mirror might reveal, your enemy can see themselves in you, and they hate what they see.

Now, what do you do about enemies?

If you cannot think of one, leave it go at that. They’ll still be there, but if you don’t see them, it’s like having mice in the wainscotting.

If you suspect someone is an enemy, go to them and ask them if they are. If they aren’t, they’ll say ” No ” and if they are, they’ll say ” No”. Then they’ll ask you why you asked…and you can tell them that you were worried about it. Then they’ll have to start being overly friendly to defuse the awkward situation. Make them pay for coffee.

If you have proof positive that someone is an enemy, treasure this. An enemy is a very valuable person. They will always be interested in you and the best ones will know where you are at all times. You can ring them up and they’ll always answer – try this at 3:00 AM and see how true it is. Remember that as you are their enemy they worry about you far more than anyone else does.

Sort of touching, in a way.

Shopping For A War – Part One – The Battleground

Nothing to do with politics or the military here, folks. Everything to do with human relations on the internet.

I count 224 souls on my Facebook list but have no idea whether some of them are really still there. There are a couple of greyed-out profiles that may indicate that they have signed themselves off – one hopes only from the social site. A few more are on semi-permanent do-not-follow status that is only breached when I get bored and curious. In some cases they have always rewarded me with the same behaviour that got them unfollowed in the first place and have been hung back on the rack.

Several more are popped into snooze mode during special occasions like the current federal election. Once this is over and their sense of electoral outrage simmers down they will be worth looking at again.

Note: I have no idea how many people have locked me in the social media bathroom at any one time. I just write and broadcast these little essays and hope for the best. If I get the worst it is just part of the game. If I get the wurst I make sauerkraut and boiled potatoes.

The social media site is a wonderful thing – there is such falsity and barnumistic advertising on it as to suggest that it has no value whatsoever. Yet every day someone makes a valuable contact or comment somewhere and it doesn’t do to remain completely ignorant about what is going over the net. You can ignore Harry Potter and the Game Of Thrones and benefit greatly but you still need your daily kitten fix on Facebook.

Unfortunately for the more modest of us ( And I am always making Modest Proposals. I’m swift with that. ..) there are people who deliberately bait, goad, and entrap on even the kindest of social sites. And we do well to realise it and shape our actions accordingly.

Tomorrow: Picking sides is like picking noses…


A Note to Friends: We Are Enemies

If you have no friends – and unfortunately there are some people who don’t – you can still have enemies. They may take the place of friends and provide you with as much pleasure and reason for being as the happier relationships.

In some respects they are a cheaper option – you needn’t wine or dine them and no birthday or Christmas presents are needed. No petrol need be expended in visits, unless you elect to stalk them late at night. You’ll never be called to collect them from the city watch house.

On the other hand, you’ll need to spend more on tranquilizers, antidepressants, and laxatives to cope with a large circle of enemies. If you have really made some horrors you may have to add arms and lawyer’s fees to that as well.

The return they give in boosting the morale and venting off the rage that we all feel against existence may compensate you for this but some people feel they can get all the stimulation they need from electric sockets  and stepping on Lego blocks.

Those who do elect to have friends can make them, buy them, or inherit them. The initial cost may be higher in the case of commercial companions but there is an advantage in that they can be discarded without regret – the others always seem to stick on. Friends are also somewhat more expensive to maintain – food, drink, entertainment, creams, ointments, anti-fungal treatments…it all adds up. Plus those pesky birthday presents. It is sometimes all you can do to find a suitable item at the Goodwill and a trip to the municipal tip can take just ages.

Of course there are advantages – someone to tell your secrets to and from whom salable confidences can be extracted. Someone who will lend money and be too embarrassed to demand it back. Someone who owns a trailer and will shovel things into it.

Be careful not to mix friendship or enmity with blood relation – at least until the important wills are read. You can be stuck on the wrong side of a codicil with no way of reversing the situation – and no-one wants to end up being the relative-in-the-wrong.

Normal People


I posted a picture taken last night at a dance show on Facebook – later taking it as my new profile picture – and raised the question of normal people…none of whom I really count amongst my circle of acquaintance. One of my friends then asked me to define normal people and I’ve had to give it some thought. The best I can do is list what normal people do:


  1. Normal people cut the grass and trim the edges and weed the garden bed every week to make sure that they present a respectable appearance in the street.
  2. Normal people drive normal cars so that they present a respectable appearance on the street.
  3. Normal people wash the car every weekend so that they present a respectable appearance in the street.
  4. Normal people dress in the currently fashionable clothing so that they present a respectable appearance in the street.
  5. Normal people engage in mainline activities so that they present a respectable appearance in the street.

You might think that the common thread here is respectability, but I submit that the common thread here is the street.  Normal people are playing to an audience – the street  – and are engaged in a theatre of deception as much as any strolling player. They do not seek applause – merely respectability. The strangest thing is that if you went to them and expressed respect specifically they would startle and run. They’d know the jig was up…

In contrast, I form my acquaintance amongst people who:

  1. dscf3623Leave the lawn and garden to deal with itself. They have far too many other occupations to spend time trying to make the front of the house look like a picture on a seed packet.
  2. hot-summ-15-18Drive cars that make them horny. They also make other people horny. Air-horny, in some cases…
  3. dscf9545_edited-2Wash the car when it needs it. Some cars need less washing than others. They are not above doing little touch-upo jobs on the paint either…
  4. _dsc0852-2Dress in the current fashion, but adjust the dial on the current so that it runs either slower or faster than it does for other people.
  5. _dsc0734Indulge themselves with art, thought, action, and achievement far away from the mainstream of sport and greed.

I have been immensely enriched by all the people I surround myself with. Sometimes I forget this but pertinent questions like those asked by Ken Barker and Marvin Brown can re-focus my thoughts. I am grateful for that. And, no, they are not normal people either, I am happy to say…