Tuesday, January 1, 2019

"The Vulgar Mistake of Dreaming that I am Persecuted Whenever I am Contradicted"

When I think about appropriate thoughts for launching this blog into another calendar year, I often find myself considering the mindset most appropriate for participation in public debate and disagreement. Here are some thoughts along those lines from Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his journal entry for November 8, 1838.
"Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted. No man, I think, had ever a greater well-being with a less desert than I. I can very well afford to be accounted bad or foolish by a few dozen or a few hundred persons, I who see myself greeted by the good expectation of so many friends far beyond any power of thought or communication of thought residing in me. Besides, I own, I am often inclined to take part with those who say I am bad or foolish, for I fear I am both. I believe and know there must be a perfect compensation. I know too well my own dark spots. Not having myself attained, not satisfied myself, far from a holy obedience,— how can I expect to satisfy others, to command their love? A few sour faces, a few biting paragraphs,—is but a cheap expiation for all these short-comings of mine."
I have not achieved Emerson's acceptance of criticism here. The words of those who criticize, even when I don't know them personally and when their tone seems overheated, often ring louder in my mind than those who write to me with support and encouragement. Frankly, I'm not at all certain that Emerson had achieved this level of transcendence, either.

But mostly, I do manage to avoid the trap of feeling persecuted when someone just disagrees with me. And viewing critics as part of the "perfect compensation" that I am due for my own indisputable imperfections seems a useful perspective on my attempted contributions to public discourse.