Anyone can be nice, but there’s an art to gaining credibility while being not-so-nice. (Really, these lines of distinction are useful in a number of fields and applications. It’s an exercise in understanding the tone of your language, and how people are more likely to receive your criticisms.)
The very stance of curmudgeonhood is one that can bring instant credibility, but you have to be careful or it will not last. If you are mean just for the sake of being mean, you will not do anything for your own reputation. You may in fact turn off the very people you are trying to influence.
From High Fives to Face Slaps
During the earliest days of Social Media, those pushing the technologies were almost optimistic to a fault. The way to build a name involved linking to the right people, agreeing with the right fundamental theses, and singing the praises of the new open world to come. There was very little space for the naysayer.
Now, one of the best ways to make a splash and establish an identity is to be as cynical as possible. There’s nothing wrong with being skeptical, as long as you are being productive.
Attributes of a successful curmudgeon:
- Honest – Say what needs to be said, and don’t hold back for feelings
- Direct – Identify the elements that need correction
- Hopeful – Write in a spirit that what you see as wrong can be made better
Negative attributes of an unsuccessful curmudgeon:
- Brutal – Say what needs to be said, taking opportunities for cheap shots
- Pointed – Identify opportunities to heap additional blame than is required
- Gleeful – Write in a way that celebrates the failure
Those who exercise curmudgeonhood for their own benefit (like those who would attack big targets, just to generate search engine linkbait) will tend to burn themselves out. Those who are truly interested in improvement instead of destruction may in fact enhance their reputation. Tone matters.
(Per my writing experiment, here’s how it unfolded.)
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