When I get negative reactions to something I write, I try not to respond in kind. For one, it’s likely to be a waste of time — people believe what they want to believe — but also, I don’t want people to know that they can get to me. When your work depends, at least in part, on public sentiment, it’s a risk to react in the normal human way, to show that insensitive and poorly thought out comments can hurt you, that you’re anything other than a good sport, that you care.
To be a writer you need to develop thick skin. Here in the WordPress community, it isn’t always necessary — people here are generally smart and open-minded and kind (or at least polite). It’s different in the outside world. You could write something totally innocuous and get a ton of negativity for it.
One time, I wrote an article about how to go on a trip to Paris for only ₱50,000. You see, I used to not even dream about European trips because I thought only the filthy rich would be able to afford them, so when I found my non-filthy-rich self there and learned ways to keep down travel expenses, I was eager to share everything I had learned. When Rappler published my article I was beyond elated…and then I saw the comments.
I was just flabbergasted. So many indignant responses elbowed each other on the way to my brain that I ended up completely speechless for a while. I was so miffed, I rushed off a supposedly “inspirational” article containing lines like “Must our aspirations be limited to our least common denominators?” and “Our feet may still be ankle-deep in mud, but we have the right to look at the stars.” My editor patted my head (insofar as one’s head can be patted by kind words in an email), told me she liked it and she would publish it (she didn’t), and then addressed my real problem. “Don’t mind the comments,” she said, even though I hadn’t mentioned them. “The naysayers will always be there. Your pieces are doing very well.”
Fast forward a few articles later and I still haven’t totally developed thick skin. However, I have come to recognize certain facts of life:
- You can’t open a mind determined to be closed;
- You can’t help people who don’t want to be helped; and quite frankly
- You can’t expect people to read an article first before commenting. (You would think, but no.)
Indignation has given way to a sort of resigned fascination at how self-defeating some people’s attitudes are. Fascination because it’s really a head-scratcher how people think sometimes; resigned because…what can do you do? Sometimes you can only shake your head and say, bless their hearts.
It’s important to note that most readers don’t bother to comment on the articles — they very sensibly take what they can get out of it and leave it at that. And a lot of the comments that are made are either positive or neutral. I do believe that if I can inspire even just a few people or at least get them thinking about doing something they never thought they could do, that’s my mission accomplished. But of course the negative comments stand out, if for no other reason than that they’re negative. Here’s a sample.
On an article that has all the facts, links, screenshots, and numbers to show that it is, in fact, possible.
This one rankles because dammit I just showed you how to do it! I spend a lot of time researching and crafting an article so being met with plain disbelief is just frustrating. It also feels like being called a liar, which I hate.
Just because you can’t do it doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
But whatever. Despite my pique, I do see it’s not my loss if they can’t open their minds.
“₱50,000? That will only pay for the hotel.”
On an article on how to go on a 7-day trip to Paris for only ₱50,000.
Look. ₱50,000 can pay for the entire trip, or it can pay only for the hotel. And honestly, it may pay for only one night in a hotel, if you want to be all snooty about it. It’s just a matter of making choices that fit your particular budget. Umarte nang naaayon sa bulsa.
If you can’t bring yourself to stay in a hostel, then don’t. But just because you don’t want to do it doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
“Why go on a vacation if you can’t afford decent food?”
Or “…if you can’t afford it?” On budget travel articles in general.
If I had to choose between sticking to a £10/day food budget so I can go to London, or not going to London at all, I would go with the first choice in a heartbeat. I understand Tesco meals aren’t for everyone but…to each his own. If your love for “decent” food trumps your love for travel, then stay home, I don’t care.
But again: just because you don’t want to do it doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Or that other people are as hard to please.
“Mas maganda ang Batanes”
(“Batanes is more beautiful.”) On an article about Bali.
Bakit, may nagsabi bang hindi? (Did anyone say otherwise?)
Kung ayaw mong pumunta ng Bali, may pumipilit ba sa ‘yo? (Is anyone forcing you to go to Bali?)
This kind of comment isn’t so much negative as it is just kind of useless. If you want to go to Batanes, go to Batanes. If you want to go to Bali, go to Bali. If you want to go to Batanes and Bali, why not? Tsk, para lang talaga may masabi.
“And in the real world most Filipinos are struggling to keep their families going and escape poverty. To them, this is a smug, impossible article that means nothing.”
Or variations thereof. On travel articles in general, but especially on budget travel to expensive cities.
This one really pisses me off.
My grandmother was a match factory worker. My grandfather was a family driver. My parents had to work really, really hard to get us to where we are now. At a very young age, we were taught to distinguish between needs and wants. My parents made sure we had everything we needed but my sister and I also did our part. We worked hard in school and won scholarships for both high school and university.
You know what we didn’t do?
We didn’t cry foul over every little article about every little thing we can’t afford.
Even now, there are a lot of things that are way beyond my budget but I don’t tell people to tailor their topics to the fluctuations of my bank balance. I rarely read Condé Nast but when I do, I don’t really care if I can’t afford what they’re featuring. I read because I’m interested. I have an absolute zero chance of being able to fly in the Etihad 3-bedroom suite but I don’t begrudge people who can afford it — or articles that talk about it.
If a person doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from, chances are he won’t even be reading my article about how to go on a 7-day trip to Paris or London for ₱50,000. But if he wants to read about it, why shouldn’t he? And if it makes him go, “Huh…maybe someday” — and if it makes him work a little harder — perfect. If the granddaughter of a match factory worker can do it, so can he. And even if he can’t, at the very least he can work hard, and teach his children to work hard, so that someday his granddaughter can find herself in Paris too.
Why do I even write? It doesn’t make much sense from a financial standpoint; I have a more profitable day job. Sometimes it’s almost a compulsion: to spend days shuffling through facts and grappling with words, all for little reward. I’m sure there are non-altruistic components to it — recognition, perhaps, a sense of identity, a sense of doing something — but a lot of it is also just me wanting to help by sharing what I know. That’s why I do a lot of how-to articles instead of click-bait feel-good stuff. And that’s why it gets my goat when my painstaking efforts are rebuffed with sheer ignorance. I never reply to silly comments because I don’t want to dignify them but…ugh. Never mind.
Bless their hearts.
[Mean travel article comments]