#IWSG–Why do people ‘Shoot the messenger’?

writers groupThis post is for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers Support Group (click the link for details on what that means and how to join. You will also find a list of bloggers signed up to the challenge that are worth checking out like Kate and Rebecca who inspired me to begin). The first Wednesday of every month, we all post our thoughts, fears or words of encouragement for fellow writers.

This month’s insecurity:  What if I write something people don’t like?

I know intellectually that doesn’t matter, but emotionally, it gnaws at me like a rat, at night, when I can’t brush it away. Truly, I want a diversity of opinion because through that, I grow. If I say something and you disagree, I hope you trust me enough to share your thoughts so I can mix them into my ideas and come out with a better understanding of the entire mess. It’s part of a democracy. We encourage freedom of speech, a wide gamut of opinions, a loud and sometimes messy discussion. In this people-centric form of government, innovation comes from a divergence of opinion.

In fact, this works well on non-emotional writerly topics like grammar rules, how to tell a good mystery, and passive vs. active voice. But for many topics (global warming for example–is anyone calm, reasoned, erudite, informed, open-minded on this topic?), a tipping point is reached where conversation becomes soaked with emotion and people lose their heads. Suddenly, what could be an intellectual growth opportunity for all stakeholders starts not with ‘Show me your evidence’ or ‘What makes you think that?’ but ‘Are you really that stupid?’ or ‘Anyone with a brain knows…’

Here’s my story–and why this topic is on my mind: Education is going through radical changes based on a set of standards adopted by 45 of the 50 states called Common Core. If you have children, you know what I mean. When those changes were theoretic, conversation was polite, educated, fact-based. Now that Common Core is in the classroom, many teachers are frightened at the vastness of the change and (IMHO) frightened for their ability to succeed. They’ve passed from a calm analysis of facts to harridan screaming. As a teacher, I have posted many articles about Common Core on my education blog Ask a Tech Teacher. All have been well received until that tipping point where theory met practical and teachers found themselves well outside their comfort zone in its application to their classroom. My last post, I got slammed with comments about how stupid I was, that I didn’t know what I was talking about (one of the milder ones: ‘…have you ever thought about the students and not you?’). I had to chide my readers, remind them this isn’t how we teach children to engage in a constructive disagreement–teachers should follow the same speaking and listening rules.

The interesting part is that supporters–and there are far more of those than detractors–were silent. This, we as writers understand. It is much more likely that people with an emotional axe to grind will comment on our published books than those who like it. Yikes–those Amazon comments have been the ruination of my day more than once!

In high school, when I first met this Shakespearean phrase in Antony and Cleopatra, I thought it ridiculous. Who would do that? Surely, that barbaric response died with the maturing of civilization. Now, once again (I often use Shakespeare’s words ‘Me thinks he doth protest too much’), I am reminded how smart this ancient writer continues to be.

More IWSG articles:

Am I good enough? Does it matter?–#IWSG

Fear of Saying Dumb Things Scares Me to Death

#IWSG–The World is Changing–Can I keep up

Will I Find Employment if I’m an Older Job Hunter?

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is  editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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14 thoughts on “#IWSG–Why do people ‘Shoot the messenger’?

  1. Pingback: #IWSG–Am I Brave Enough? « Jacqui Murray

  2. Pingback: #IWSG–Am I Brave Enough? | WordDreams...

  3. I was once in a room full of teachers on a panel discussion. I was supposed to strictly talk about my book, but when people heard I was a teacher too, they went off on a tangent to complain about testing. It was really intense and not something I cared for. I find the same when I go to workshops. Teachers are very passionate and opinionated.


    • They are–almost lockstep. I have to keep my mouth shut often because I know there won’t be many who agree with my self-reliance message. I always find this particularly odd–the high-minded opinionated approach–because it’s not what we teach kids. We want them to be open-minded, listen to all perspectives, able to put themselves in another’s shoes.

      Oh well.


  4. Here is a quote I saw recently, and I don’t know who said it, but I think it’s a great quote. It went along the lines of “How you try make others feel about themselves, says something about you.”


  5. Living in the UK haven’t been confronted with Common Core, but as a product of private school education I have had a hard time justifying that system…. to both sides. Sometimes trying to understand both points of view means getting attacked from all sides. I’m better at arguing the green case over global warming than tackling education. Post has got me thinking though, so thanks.


  6. *sigh* my poor mom has to deal with people screaming about common core all the time. She’s a fifth grade teacher who wholeheartedly embraced the potential with common core. However, good friends have attacked her for that on her facebook page and they definitely don’t want to have a “discussion” about it.

    There are so many topics that fall into the same category–politics and religion being the top of the list. I wish we could find a way to keep that civil, educated way of discussion. Maybe if we writer’s practice it in our critique groups we can slowly spread it to the world?


    • I’m sorry about your mom. When I first read Common Core, I thought it was a godsend–who could disagree with the things it changed. It’s the way we’d all educate given the chance. Then, as it rolled out, I realized it wasn’t the standards that were the problem, but implementation. The stories I heard about what teachers were doing was stunning. My heart goes out to your mom because it sounds like her school is trying to do it right. As soon as I told readers they weren’t allowed to insult me, most of the comments ended! Amazing.


  7. I’ve escaped the fray of Common Core living in Sweden. I suppose civilized discussion on the matter is beyond our less than perfect world, but as the Great Bard said, “Blow Winds, Blow!”


    • I think Sweden does a good job with education without radical change. You probably already focus on evidence-based comments, speaking and listening skills, depth not breadth. Still, the biggest piece of education success cannot be legislated–that’s parents.


  8. Great point about the way emotions can cloud a rational discussion. I have similar fears, and as I plug away in spite of them I realize that facing issues head on might mean that I’ve tapped into the core of my story. In fact, writing a story some people don’t like may have given the silent ones, the people who support your position, a voice. 🙂
    You’ve certainly made me curious about your stories!


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