The arm-chair critics and civility in public discourse

I write with reference to the above-titled article published by the Nigerian Village Square (http://www.nigeriavillagesquare.com/articles/olayiwola-ajileye/medico-legal-and-sociology-of-yaraduas-illness.html), amongst other websites. I write with particular reference to the rejoinders posted by those who are determined to make the square a place of terror to others. I refer to the arm-chair critics; those who would refuse to write but could hardly see anything good in what others have written. The art of writing is such that what you may consider irrelevant may be completely relevant to the writer and others. Such is the unique nature of human beings and this remains one of the features that make us tick. In any case, when has it become the norm that we should use the barometer of others to structure our mode of thinking or writing? Are such barometers published by websites’ owners to determine what and what should be published?

I do not know Dr Olayiwola Olaleye and never had any form of communication or contact with him. However, even a cursory look at the article he wrote would reveal an intelligent analytical approach to solving the partially resolved political logjam induced by the celebrated ill-health of President Yar’adua from the medico-legal angle. Thus, I was at a loss when some professional critics decided to employ negativism in destroying the author’s credibility, simply because the article never met with their amorphous and undefined criteria.

There were three rejoinders to the said article and each was as caustic as they come. I have taken the liberty to post the rejoinders here:

Rejoinder 1:  Nigeria now has an acting president and he has taken full control of Government...why go back to concentrate on the state of health of a machine dependent almost dead-president?
Could this article not concentrate on the new state of Government affairs that the new man at the helm is in control of?
What a waste of writing time and effort?

Rejoinder 2:  That is because some people just want to write for the sake of writing. It is not only a waste of time and effort, but a waste of space.

Rejoinder 3:  I guess this one belongs to the group of write (publish) or die "intellectuals"

The criticisms quoted above are in the extreme, to say the least, and they confer no richness to the art of writing. There is no point in analysing the merit or demerit of each, they speak for themselves. In as much as the internet remains an easy way to disseminate information, it is also significant to note that there is no gain in basking in faceless splendour to destroy the creativity of others. A particular writer may not write to your satisfaction. Another may not raise points you cherished. I am yet to come across
rules of participation in the square (or anywhere else for that matter) where it is mandatory to pass comment(s) on every published article. If you have nothing positive or enriching to say or if the said article contributed little to your knowledge, you may politely move on.

To criticise is very easy and indeed, criticism comes with two different flavours – positive or negative. Positive or constructive criticism is refined and more effective. It remains an art to be developed even by the critic. Frank A. Clark in his far-reaching observation stated that:

"Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a person’s growth without destroying their roots."

Thus, positive criticism is the greatest gift one can behove to another. It nourishes and enriches. And it takes self discipline to cultivate. It is often very easy to allow complacency to take hold and submit to the powerful hold of negativism, otherwise known as destructive criticism.  Negativism is described as “criticism performed with the intention to harm someone, derogate and destroy someone’s creation, prestige, reputation and self-esteem,”
(en.wiktionary.org/wiki/destructive_criticism). Destructive criticism psychologically subjugates self esteem and is ultimately non-rewarding to the author or writer.

Negative language is the harbinger of discord and confusion. It breeds hatred and enmity and has been the cause of much of the wars and confusion the human race has ever witnessed. Even on a platform such as provided by the village square, despite the characteristic facelessness of the square, it is very possible to kick-start negative emotions by careless and unchecked comments.

What then are the common attributes of positive or constructive criticism? These, in a nutshell, include:

1.    Make your criticism specific
2.    Don't exaggerate the problem
3.    Watch the adjectives you use to describe what you are criticizing - Some are so loaded with venom and anger that so often you wonder what brought it up in the first place
4.    When offering criticism, it’s wise to also suggest a solution
5.    Sarcasm is the coward’s way of expressing negative feelings or criticism

(Source: The art of positive criticism - http://www.katelarsen.com/articles/motivational/art_of_positive_criticism.htm)

In 2008, I had cause to write on a similar theme: Need for Civility in Public Discourse – The NVS Experience (http://www.nigeriavillagesquare.com/articles/dr-olusegun-fakoya/need-for-civility-in-public-discourse-the-nvs-experience.html) and it is sad to say that all that I wrote even then still appear relevant today. Indeed, I still maintain that “there is no substitute for civility in achieving rationality in public discourses. We can disagree to agree or agree to disagree. This should not be ground for name-callings, insults or demonstration of uncouth and uncivilised behaviour. Rationality still remains the best standard for public discussion.”

Now that I have opened the Pandora box, I realise that the might of the hatchet men might fully descend on me, but should I fear?