As I type this, I’m scared. I’m scared because I’m at one of those moments in life where you’re forced to make a choice. I have to choose between living up to my own expectations and ideals, or being a coward, a hypocrite, someone who is all words and no action.
Yesterday, my first post for Venkatesh Rao’s Ribbonfarm went live. It’s called “Zorba, Spock or Voldemort?”, and the brief snatches of response to it that I’ve seen have been pretty frosty. But it’s early morning here in the UK, and it went live at 0800 PST, so I’ve been asleep while Ribbonfarm’s primary audience has been reading and responding. And I tend not to check social media until the afternoon, so right now, I have no idea what the response—if any—has been. And that’s the problem. That’s what’s making me scared.
I always talk about intellectual courage. About shelving the ego when faced with feedback—either positive or negative. About listening to what someone is saying, not how they say it. And I always remind myself of what Marcus Aurelius said:
“If anyone can refute me—show me I'm making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective—I'll gladly change. It's the truth I'm after and the truth never harmed anyone."
But as Ursula Le Guin wrote in The Earthsea Quartet: "Ged had learned all he could of dragons at the School, but it is one thing to read about dragons and another to meet them."
I can talk the talk. I can write and moralise about all these noble ideas. But these principles and ideals are worthless if they don’t survive the collision with reality.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of writing for Ribbonfarm is the the calibre of the audience. It has an intelligent, honest, rigorous readership. It’s composed of people who are irreverent and willing to call bullshit when they see it. So on the one hand, I’m proud to have written for Ribbonfarm and its audience. But on the other hand, I’m scared of being told that my thinking is shoddy. That I’m biased. That I’m uninformed. That I’m wrong. I’m scared of not measuring up to their high standards.
But the question is, if I am met with criticism, if I do fall short, what am I going to do? Am I going to moan and bitch and whine? Am I going to take each comment like a personal insult? Am I going to let some negative feedback prevent me from ever testing the extent of my intellectual limits in the future?
Or am I going to be open-minded and humble? Am I going to ask people to break down exactly what’s wrong with my work so that I can learn and improve?
Am I going to use this as an excuse to hide, or as an opportunity to grow? Am I going to cower and run, or stand and meet whatever comes my way?
This is a test. A moment that can set a precedent for my future. Will I live up to my own standards? Or will I be like one of those people I so detest—someone who talks about doing the hard thing, and then doesn’t actually do it?