How the masters dealt with disapproval

At first, i was going to call this “dealing with criticism.” Artists, writers, students, historians and jobseekers often get unsolicited feedback from friends, former colleagues and relatives, and it can seem like a lot to deal with.  When you write or create art for mass consumption, criticism can come from complete strangers.

But, criticism isn’t always disapproval, and criticism is not the only form of disapproval.

I think it’s easier to deal with if you know what it is.

I’ve decided to break down the most annoying forms of disapproval, to

  1. Condemnation
  2. Frustration
  3. Rating
  4. Advice
  5. Persuasion
  6. Pessimism
  7. Rivalry


We all have heard condemnation.  Usually, it’s reserved for killers and tyrants, or at least someone who has done something morally wrong, but some people seem to throw condemnation on people who use the wrong font, wear a wrinkled shirt, or who cross their arms instead of being akimbo.

When you condemn, you’re saying that their actions are not only inexcusable, but unredeemable.

People like Moliere dealt with condemnation by poking fun at those who condemn them.  Anyone, from critics and academics to clergy and nobility, even doctors and lawyers, were fair game.  If you condemned Moliere, you were asking to be parodied in his plays.

Of course, he did pay the price for his retaliation.  After his fell ill from his last play, neither doctor nor priest would see him until he was dead.  So, the playwright received neither medical treatment nor his “last rights.”


Sometimes, people take their frustrations out on you.  Perhaps they wished they’d studied math while they were younger, and they think they see you slacking in your study of math.  Or, maybe it has nothing to do with your actions, maybe you’re just the closest person to them when they are feeling frustrated.

This is not as bad as condemnation, as you can get on the person’s good side again.  Here, if you can find out the source of the frustration, you might be able to help.

A lot of movies and books, from the old Ukrainian plays to Jazz Singer* to Billy Elliot, show familial disapproval for a career path.  Many artists play out this frustration, trying to understand the disapproval of others with their art, while others just dismiss it.


There are a brand of people, called critics, whose job it is to rate things.  In our day, not only artists are subject to these people, as freelance drivers and ebay sellers are subject to the same star system that filmmakers deal with.

How many stars was your delivery experience?  When I was selling books on eBay, sometimes, I found that if you rated another seller negatively, they’d buy from you just so they could get revenge.  They didn’t care if they deserved it and you didn’t, they just wanted to retaliate for ruining their ill deserved high rating.

Well, sometimes you might get a low rating when you don’t feel like you deserve it.  The English poet Byron was scathed by Scottish critics after his first book, and he replied with “English bards and Scottish critics”, in which he got revenge by criticising their criticisms.

Liberace had another way of dealing with his critics, by counting his blessings, or his money.  When they called his music kitch, he merely said “I’m crying all the way to the bank.”

Sometimes, however, you might just ask for more detailed feedback.  What was it about the work that you disapproved of?


Advice isn’t the same thing as criticism, but advice can seem like a form of disapproval.  If advice is given at the start of a venture, for instance during a university orientation or during employee training, it just seems standard, and not personal.  If, however, you get advice when you’re walking down the road, it’s easy to take the wrong way.

To understand advice, it’s good to understand the motive and the knowledge of the person giving it.  If the advice does not have a story attached, it might be best ignored.

When I worked in customer service, most of the warnings we were given were in the form of video re-enactments of poor customer service.  Some were imaginings, or exaggerations.  This advice was not pointed at anyone, but rather a warning that showed the consequences of sloppy action, as well as the rewards of good action.

Understand that some people will sometimes just give advice to make themselves feel important.


Sometimes, people aren’t trying to help you, to criticise you, or to get at you.  They want you to do something for them.

Most people know that persuasion works best if you play to a person’s strengths, but there are people who think that by showing disapproval, they can get you to do what they want.  They think that if they tear down your dreams, you’ll do menial work for them, that if they make you feel worthless, you’ll work for less money.

The main thing to understand is that these people who who dissatisfaction in order to get you to do what they want are idiots.  History has shown that people who feel like rubbish do rubbish work and are more likely to lash out at those who make them feel like rubbish.


Sometimes, however, they just don’t think you can do something.  People will tell you to give up your dreams because they don’t believe they are possible.

One such case is in the movie tooth fairy, where the main actor dissuades the kid from playing guitar because he has given up on his own dreams.

In the Disney film Chicken Little, the father says “Don’t get your hopes up too high.”  He seems to be more concerned with being embarrassed than with his son’s happiness.

Many pessimists have forgotten how much fun hope can be, how great it is to strive.  They don’t realize that when the journey is a challenge, that’s when getting there is half the fun (riding in an airplane through turbulence, or trapped in a the back of a windy bus, can be very boring, compared to tracking through the jungle, hitchhiking, or feeling the wind in your hair while riding on a dodgy motorcycle.)

The great stigma of failure is a disease in our society.  It’s only when you do something were failure is a possibility that you have any chance of achieving anything great.


Often, you’ll get a person telling you to give up because they see you as a threat.  In war, it’s often a technique to destroy the morale and confidence of the other side.

If you look at history, you’ll find plenty of classic writers who tried to knock down others.  Like boxers or “professional” wrestlers before a match, they’ll attack their opponent off the field before going on.  Mark Twain totally trashed the writer of Last of the Mohikans.

This kind of nasty rivalry is especially prevalent in entertainment.  As Joe Esterhaus said, quoting Guy McElwain, “in this business you don’t pray for your friends to fail, you pray for them to die.”

In addition to disapproval, many will give bad advice, in order to rid themselves of a rival.

Too many people seek feedback from their peers, but in a competitive industry, this might not be a good idea.  Instead, seek feedback from those who would actually pay you.  A writer’s best friends for feedback are those who have skin in the game, those who already paid a down payment on their work and who stand to gain more if the work is successful.  Your worst enemies are rival writers who stand to gain if you fail.

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