When I was growing up, my neighborhood had a guy who waved. It was, in my travels, something you’d see from time to time: some guy whose mission in life was to get out to the end of the driveway and happily wave at cars all day. The guy in our neighborhood was “Bill” and while everyone knew Bill wasn’t quite right; he was harmless enough. He stood out on Daggett Ave and, as far as I know, he might still be there.
One time, I even saw Charles Kuralt do a piece on “Wavers”, some guys in Alabama, Father and Son, who just happily waved at cars all day, just like Bill. I don’t see Wavers anymore and I think I know why. They are all holed up in their basements and on the internet. Yup, the wavers, the letters to the editor guy, the “Get off my lawn” woman and the cat hoarder are all there too. They’ve been mainstreamed, thanks to social media.
If you are a creative person, you have to be careful to follow your own instincts, to deliver the message from your heart or you will find that the wavers and cat ladies are controlling your work. Democracy is a messy business and you have to be careful the squeakiest wheels aren’t the ones deciding what your work is about: that is your job. Your paintings, your writing, your photo’s have to represent your emotion, your point of view or they are no longer yours. If you try to please everyone, you are destined to a life of hackdom.
At least once a week, my little blog or Facebook page gets me called a “jerk”, a “sexist”, or informs me that someone is “offended.” I’ve come to learn, if I’m not offending enough people, I’m not saying it right. And here’s the joy of it: once you learn to let the wavers wave all they want, it isn’t your problem. Toxic relationships are not something you have to play with, in real life and, especially, in the cyber world. The block button is a wonderful tool, I recommend it.
“Painbodies” as author Eckhardt Tolle calls them, are the parts of us that carry around slights we can’t forget, anger we can’t release and aggression we can’t control. You can spot someone with a painbody when they go off on an innocent store clerk, cut you off maliciously in traffic or scream at you in all caps when you mention that you don’t like a folk group from the fifties. Someone is exhibiting a painbody when they say they are offended because you have not chosen to become a vegetarian or when you post a Seth Godin interview about marketing. A Painbody says, “Recognize me and my ego, share my pain. I will distribute this pain to you because it deflects it from me.”
Some people find the best way to communicate is to bully, whether it be with the wheel of their SUV, the letters of the keyboard, the “I’m offended card” or the guilt of a relationship. We all have our soft spots, we all want to be liked and it is easy to succumb to the person who makes us feel bad about standing up for ourselves. Being creative makes you vulnerable enough, listening to people whose only gift is criticism is the surest way to frustration and a painbody of your own.
Bill, as far as I know, didn’t have a painbody, he’d probably hit the “Like” button on every post he sees. Somewhere between Bill and the the person who starts screaming at you in all caps is where the rest of us try to live, although we all have our moments. As a creative person, I hope you recognize that emotion can bring out emotions, you can’t control what your work evokes. If you evoke something: thought, laughter, anger, sarcasm, then you are probably close to the mark.
So, my suggestion is to set some boundaries. Allow that not everyone will like your work, but don’t let them insult or manipulate you. Allow that you can’t control someone else’s reaction. And; realize that if someone gets under your skin, it is because you have allowed it. People, in general, will treat you the way you let them, if your work matters to you, it is up to you to let people know when they have crossed the line.
Even if you are sometimes a “jerk”. Just wave at them and smile! Bill was onto something!