Thriving Not Surviving

I believe compassion is a virtue. I know compassion is not a weakness. I hope I am a compassionate man. I hope I do not mistake weakness for compassion.

I have read with interest Jefferson Smith’s new book review series, Immerse or Die. Unlike other reviews, this measures whether or not a book can keep him immersed for 40 minutes; the length of time it takes him to do an exercise regime.

As an author I can immediately see the benefit in knowing where the book lost his interest: if one person loses interest, it is likely other people will too, so that is a good point to review; especially if it falls early enough that it seems in the book sample.

And I am not alone in thinking this is a benefit.

However, the deliberately hyperbolic description of the method Smith adopts is more contentious.

I see it as the equivalent of the self-aware parody of wrestling smack-talk; a way to make a loss of immersion at X minutes about being good enough to get to X rather than not good enough to get to 40 minutes.

Others see it as a lack of compassion because it has the potential to damage the confidence of an author by apparent assumption of authority.

I agree that someone might be hurt, which is why I am leaving it to any authors I know to make their own choice rather than risking the appearance of pressure that suggesting it to them might bring.

Humanitarian Aid Package
Good For All or Least Worst Option?
James McAuleyCC BY 2.0)

But I don’t see compassion as avoiding anything that might hurt someone.

If you are in a room with a screaming child, not throwing them from the window might be an act of compassion.

If you are in a burning room with a screaming child, not throwing them from the window is definitely not an act of compassion.

While the example is (deliberately) extreme, the same thought applies to smaller situations: being pleasant and being compassionate are not the same thing. To be inoffensive because we are then not responsible for the outcome, is weakness not compassion.

As we are more likely to encounter the small situations than the extreme, more likely to coast through the trivial than the life-threatening, it is arguably even more important to cultivate the distinction in minor matters.

And from the other side, assuming everyone who is not pleasant is automatically callous reduces them to ciphers; also not an act of compassion.

Do you feel being harsh can be compassionate? Do you feel there is always an inoffensive way to deliver a message?


7 thoughts on “Thriving Not Surviving

  1. Tough questions. I can say something I think is totally harmless, totally compassionate, and due to cultural or language differences it could be taken as offensive. So, it depends on the intent behind the words as well as the understanding of the audience. In theory, yes, there should always be a way to inoffensively deliver a message. But, I’m not sure there is a way to really test/prove that theory in this world.


    1. As the troll archetype demonstrates, there are people who seek to take offence. So potentially being a decent person is only half the answer; the other half needs wider, deeper, social changes to address other people not assuming good intent as a default.


  2. Funny you should write about this now since it’s been on my mind lately. I’ve developed a reputation for being brutally honest and sometimes callous. People have called me heartless and condescending (mostly due to my monotonous tone), but those same people appreciate my honesty. They may not enjoy my blunt phrasing, but they seem to respect my opinion more than if I tried to put it in a nice way. There’s no telling what people will get offended by, but pure, honest words seem to get the message across the best.


    1. After decades of law I have a style that gets me both ways: people call me arrogant because I naturally express my opinions confidently rather than seeming diffident; and they accuse me of being devious because I suggest exceptions to the rule.

      This isn’t so bad in person, but my nuanced confidence is probably ill-suited to much of the internet.


  3. I’ve been on the wrong end of people being too kind. They don’t want to hurt your feelings, so they say, “That cover is nice” and are thinking “Ew, I hope he doesn’t use that cover”. Or they say, “fantasy isn’t really my thing” instead of saying, “your book is riddled with errors”.

    I think it might be a symptom of people thinking of writing as a hobby instead of a job. If, for example, I took up painting as a hobby, no-one should say, “This is crap compared to DaVinci”. It would be unnecessarily cruel. However, if I wanted to be a professional artist, then people should change their feedback to match that.


    1. An excellent example of what I was suggesting.

      There is a difference between hurting and harming: if I am doing something for enjoyment, then criticism damages enjoyment so is harmful; but if I am trying to sell my work withholding criticism is more harmful than any temporary hurt I might take from not being told I am perfect.

      Also the inability to criticism honestly can damage a relationship in the long term. Often the creator knows something has flaws, but is not sure how serious they are or whether they are aware of them all, so knows that someone saying it is superb either has low standards or is lying. If it happens too often, it is easy to start wondering what else they might not be truthful about.


      1. Yeah, exactly. It’s the main reason I was incredibly harsh on Garrett’s book. I’m wondering if his copy-edit of the first Bytarend book will increase the number of people moving on to the second. I’m thinking that most people will stop reading and not say anything if something puts them off. Where you’d rather hear about it and fix it.


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