Revelations: Responding to criticism

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

Jan. 31, 2014 at midnight
Updated Jan. 30, 2014 at 7:31 p.m.

I always knew when I became a journalist nearly seven years ago my work would eventually beget public scrutiny.

And when I introduced this column three years ago, I was prepared for my thoughts to spawn the occasional backlash email and angry phone call.

These attacks, while unacceptable, go with the job, unfortunately.

And some of the backlash is downright evil. The lengths some people go to - to disrespect, insult and berate my profession, writing, relationships, ideas, identity, faith, salvation, friends, family, even my personal appearance - can be enough to drive a person to drink.

Maybe that's why many journalists do.

I don't let the comments affect me these days; I've developed a pretty thick skin as it turns out.

But I realized while fielding through many critical responses to last week's abortion column that while I may never have the opportunity to change the minds of those who oppose me, I can offer a response to my critics in the most adult, Christlike way I know how - in writing.

Thank you to all who wrote me last week - positive or negative. I'm so pleased you're reading and walking through my faith journey with me each week.

I respect your thoughts

Those of you who write me each week, I want you to know that I appreciate your thoughts. You are a valued part of my week, and it pleases me to know you're reading my column.

It's appropriate and necessary you know how I feel so that next time you feel the urge to publicly or privately chastise me for one of my articles, you will know that I do respect you as an individual and respect your right to express your thoughts.

Respect is the very foundation of adult conversation, and if we can both start with our minds fully focused on respecting one another, our conversations will be much more productive from start to finish. So, let's start there.

It's OK to disagree

If I were to lay out all of my friends from one end of the Earth to the other, you would be surprised, perhaps even shocked, at those I keep in my inner circle. Ethnicity, geography, religion, political persuasion, skin color, sexuality, age, sex, socioeconomic status - among other dividers - doesn't preclude someone's friendship with me.

As a (believe-it-or-not) fairly conservative Christ-following woman, I enjoy the company of those similar and dissimilar to me. That way, I'm continuously challenged in my thinking and understanding of the world.

I say this not to brag at my vast friend group but rather to demonstrate that I'm just an ordinary person who has much experience with disagreeing with people I call "friend."

So, it's possible to be friends and have healthy disagreements. And that's OK. Not everyone needs to be on the same page all the time.

I am human, too

Remember, when you reach out to a stranger with your strong opinions, regardless of whether that person is a journalist, there is a human being on the other end of your note.

Just because our bylines and photos may sit next to our articles, distributed to thousands of people, doesn't mean we're not people with feelings and passions and concerns for the world around us. We're not punching bags.

Also remember that no (mainstream media) journalist sits down to write an article and thinks "How can I make my readers angry?" We're in this business, earning modest wages and working ourselves to death because we care about you, the readers, our neighbors, our communities.

That's the very heartbeat, the soul, of the Fourth Estate. We want you to know what's going on, and we want you to get involved and express your opinion. So let's do that - sans name calling, screaming, and publicly embarrassing the journalist. That's never appropriate. And you know if your name were on the article, you wouldn't appreciate filtering through a slew of angry emails either. Keep in mind, we're all on the same team.

My Christian walk doesn't need to look like yours

Not every reporter at this paper is public about their faith. But each week, I'm transparent in my column that I identify as a Christ follower. I believe in a divine Jesus. I believe in the historical accuracy of the Scriptures. But I don't always agree with man, Western Christian culture or the faux-biblical values that have crept into our churches.

My Christian walk from beginning to end is mine, and it's a personal journey that I'm taking with God. It will never be the same as yours. It's not a race. We walk at different paces. I'm not concerned with catching up with you or catching you up with me. I'm concerned only with my walk and my desire to keep moving forward.

The way you speak to strangers is your tell

I'm not a wilting violet. I don't need your approval or need you to like me. I'm perfectly content with you disagreeing with everything I believe and every value I have. And the reason for this is because I don't seek value from man. I seek value and my identity from God.

So when you send me an angry email, intentional in your attempt to hurt my feelings or yell your opinions at me, I am not persuaded to change my mind.

Sometimes, in prayer, I ask God to reveal things to me that may stem from one of these letters, but mostly what he reveals to me is that any person who feels compelled to yell at a stranger, someone they only know from words in a newspaper, is most likely an extremely unhappy person who doesn't respect or like themselves very much.

I would never speak to a stranger with a visceral tongue because it's not polite and my Lord tells me I'm supposed to be kind to others and use my words for building others up. I'm certain I have failed at this on occasion, but I'm also certain that my heart's desire is for peace, tolerance and friendship to win over hate.

I hope we can be friends

Those who know me well, know my greatest desire is to sit down with my enemies, and the enemies of this world, at a dinner table and share a cup of tea, coffee or a simple home-cooked meal.

I believe in my heart that war and hate and intolerance could be driven out over a period of years if we were willing to break bread together in an honest, open-minded way, at least once or twice a week.

Why? Because mealtimes create opportunities to get to know people. They create dialogue, friendships and allow for storytelling and laughter.

It's there, at the dinner table, that we can get to know the person behind the radical idea. It's where we can realize they are more than their words or signatures on an email. It's where we can start to become friends.

I realize having dinner or coffee with those who oppose me or my ideas may seem like a radical idea. But I'm game if you are.

Let's start somewhere positive. It will be much harder to hate me or send me nasty notes if you like me and call me friend. It's worth a shot, right?

Jennifer Preyss is a reporter for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at 361-580-6535 or or @jenniferpreyss on Twitter.



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