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Criticism is the easy part

Last weekend, I tweeted something that struck a nerve:

It took me a total of 10 seconds to draft that tweet. But the lessons it left me with were priceless.

The spark of it all

It was Sunday morning. I was walking back from the gym a little exhausted (being a startup CEO can be tireless) and still a bit sick (I was recovering from food poisoning). On my way up to my apartment, I ran into a young mother and her baby daughter in the elevator.

In typical “terrible twos” fashion, the little girl started wailing inconsolably at the top of her lungs. Maybe she wanted food? Sleep? Attention? Only God knows. As is the protocol with awkward elevator encounters, I decided to take refuge in my phone screen and headphones, pretending not to notice the chaos unfolding two feet from me.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the mother whip out the modern-day panacea to all toddler troubles: the iPad. “Ugh, another parent who just shoves an iPad in the child’s face instead of teaching them how to behave,” I thought.

With my phone in hand, I realized this insight was too good not to share. So I took to Twitter, blasted out my take on the matter, walked into my apartment, and hopped in the shower. No big deal, right?

Before we get to what happened, let me preface the rest of the story with this statement:

This is one of the biggest reasons I don’t like Twitter—it’s way too easy to say something with little or no thought.

The fallout

Anyway, so I said the above tweet. And not long after, plenty of parents were in an uproar over it:

Okay, you got me, that last example isn’t real. But I think we can all agree that wouldn’t have been too far from the mark.

Obviously, my intention was never to provoke the wrath of parents worldwide. And I didn’t really think much of the consequences until later; I carried on with my day, trying to catch up on the many things on my plate.

I checked in on the tweet sporadically, responding when I could. I usually don’t do this on Twitter (just a lack of time, honestly). But this particular thread had captivated my attention—when the day was done, I realized I had probably spent around two hours on Twitter just observing reactions and trying to make sense of the situation.

Two insights became readily apparent from this ordeal:

Nobody likes a know-it-all.

I realized I came off as Miss Queen Bee Know-It-All. Here I was, just sitting on my ivory throne, telling parents how to parent when I don’t even have a child.

Twitter can be used for insightful conversation!

Trolls aside, Twitter can actually be kind of fun when you respond to people and have an honest dialogue. But we’ll save this thought for another post at a later time.

Seeing things from the inside out

Let’s get back to the first point, because there’s a lot more to learn from it.

I don’t regret the tweet, but I do regret how I came off. I didn’t harbor any ill intention, and I certainly didn’t mean any harm by my off-the-cuff comment. But this doesn’t change the fact that I sounded overly critical and judgmental. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t sit well with plenty of parents.

And after the resulting discussion from my Tweets, I can see why. It wasn’t just about making erroneous assumptions. I struck a sensitive chord—many parents already feel guilty enough about turning to the iPad to quiet their children.

Every parent wants to be the best parent they can possibly be. They all would love to spend more time having more meaningful interactions with their children. And they’re all trying to do their best to make that happen.

But parenting is a 24/7 job. It can quickly become overwhelming. What happens during a 30-second elevator ride isn’t representative of how good or bad a parent is.

The responses I received from some parents deeply resonated with me; I realized I often feel the same way as a CEO. No matter what I do or how much I do, I always have a deep sense of guilt about whether I’m doing the right thing or not. But I can definitely tell you that I’m trying my GOD DAMN hardest to be the best CEO I can be.

It’s taking everything I have to make this dream of TruStory into a reality. But from the outside, nobody has any idea, especially since we’re still pre-launch and the public can’t monitor progress. We’ve been busting our asses every day building, shipping to our community, testing our assumptions, and going back to the drawing board to learn and reiterate.

But nobody knows this as well as we do. So if someone from the outside were to look in on our progress and call our baby ugly, say we’re neglecting it, or claim that we’re doing a terrible job of nurturing it, well… you’re damn right I’d be upset!

I get it now. I’m a single woman who made a drive-by comment about how someone else was parenting their child for 30 seconds. But the truth is that parent’s probably doing everything they can to raise that child right. Passing judgment on a snapshot of their time isn’t the same as seeing the complete picture for what it really is.

Shame VS Guilt

Another interesting facet about this thread was the way in which different people internalized it. Some found it shameful. Others found it guilt-inducing.

Shame and guilt can seem like the same thing on the outside. But they are fundamentally different on the inside. Shame is inflicted onto you by others. Guilt is inflicted onto you by yourself. Shame is almost always a net negative whereas guilt can be turned into a net positive.

Put another way, no one wants to be shamed—it’s demeaning and discouraging. But guilt, on the other hand, is often a powerful motivator for change.

The people who internalized the tweet with shame reacted with outrage and ad hominem attacks. They confronted me.

The people who felt a deep sense of guilt from the tweet responded with constructive criticism and empathetic explanations. They confronted the issue.

With this being said, here’s something to think about next time you (or I) decide to criticize someone:

Do you want to impose shame or guilt?

The shame game gets you nowhere

Do I regret what I did? No.

Would I do it differently next time? Absolutely.

Shaming someone is easy. Anyone can do it. But by being both the shamer and the shamed in this instance, I’ve realized it is also quite worthless. Shaming rarely ever offers anything constructive. So it usually never makes things better.

If I were to do this all over again, I’d revise my observation. Instead of simply tweeting out a firm stance on my dislike for iPads being used to placate children, I’d elaborate that I may not be seeing the entire picture.

After all, my goal isn’t to be right or agreeable. It’s to learn and seek the truth.

So, to those who took the time to give me back some constructive criticism: Thank you! Mistakes are for learning, and you’ve helped me see things from a different perspective.

We can all learn something from one another. And we can all do so constructively. There’s no shame in that.