As you may know, I like floating around the internet looking at other people's crafts, photos, recipes and writing, among all sorts of other creations. I spend more time being inspired to do things than I actually spend doing them. And please, don't even ask about the state of my house.
One thing that seems to be more and more prevalent everywhere I go (including here) is the "comment" button. And of course, 99% of comments are positive and respectful. But every now and again I come across something that is obviously inappropriate. Sometimes it's downright rude and insulting, and you don't need examples of this--we're talking about those people who spend all their time roaming around cyberspace looking for someone to insult because they (mistakenly) think it makes them look smart. This junk annoys me, but since it makes the person who wrote it look dumber than a fencepost, I don't really care. The more damaging stuff is the "constructive" criticism that goes a little overboard.
On one of the sites I visit regularly, I started noticing a pattern of long-winded, critical comments from one person. One that bugged me the most was to a little girl who had made herself a beautiful dress for her prom. She stated clearly that this was her very first attempt at making a dress, and I think that's pretty darned impressive. When I was 17, I was hanging out at the mall with my friends, complaining that the world wasn't handing me everything I wanted in life, wrapped up in a satin bow. So, when I saw, yet again, this same person leaving a list of things this kid could've done better for the whole world to see, I decided to check out her profile, in which she listed herself as an expert. Firstly, for the record, if you were born in the 1980's, you are an "expert" on nothing. Don't get me wrong here. I look at knitting, cardmaking, and craft blogs all the time in which I would consider the creator, regardless of age, an expert. I just don't think you should be calling yourself one unless you have an awful lot of experience to back up your claim.
I don't think people who do this mean to be anything other than helpful (though I do suspect they're sometimes hoping to leave an impression of being terribly knowledgeable, whether they are or not), and there is most certainly a place for constructive criticism. When I studied creative writing in university, there was a lot of critical feedback. People said things about my poems and stories that, even if it made me cringe, taught me to tighten things up and to see things from a reader's point of view. At the time, I wanted to be a professional "writer", so even blunt, insensitive comments were appropriate, if for no other reason than to prepare me for a lifetime of being brutally panned. But when you're just showing off something you're proud of on a craft site or your blog, long lists of improvements you should make are just not helpful, and they're not nice either.
As a teacher, I knew that parents wouldn't appreciate a report card full of harsh comments about their kids, even if their kids were obviously jail-bound. So I used terms like "a goal for so-and-so is..." and "something to work on will be..." and dealt with one or two issues at a time, rather than overwhelming the parent with everything that needed improvement. Putting your heart and soul into a piece of writing, or a photograph, or a prom dress and having it deconstructed at length by a so-called expert is a little like having your child deemed a failure on a report card. Of course it's fine to suggest that this technique or that colour of ribbon might be a great addition to a person's work, but no one is going to benefit from being told, all at once, every single thing that's wrong.
What seems saddest to me is that this kid may never post anything again out of embarrassment from this one incident. I've often thought the same about recipes that have been rudely reviewed. When that happens, no one benefits from what I think is the very best thing about the internet--the sharing of ideas. So, as opinionated as I am on many, many things (and I do thank you all for sticking with me even when I'm completely disagreeable), when I hit "comment" on websites showcasing other people's talent, I make sure to always ultimately leave the impression that I like what I see. When I was a kid, my Mum used to tell me that if I had nothing nice to say, I shouldn't say anything at all.
Good advice, indeed.