You Can’t Assume Rationality

One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is that not everyone sees the world the way I do.  Things that seem perfectly obvious to me aren’t to other people.  Does that make me right?  Or better?  No, not necessarily.  I like to think I am, because who wants to think of themselves as wrong or less than others, but there’s no guarantee I am.

I could just be walking through life with my head up my ass.

Because from where I sit there are definitely some people who are doing exactly that.  And don’t know they are, so it’s always possible I’m actually the one who is and they’re the ones who have it right.

And when two people are on opposite sides of that coin, there’s no bringing them together.  I will never believe that the people I think are out there are right and they will never believe that I am.

This is often the case when a reviewer and an author get into it in a review thread.

Someone posted a link today on AW of the latest example of this.

A reader one-starred a book on Goodreads and the author chose to respond that the review was destroying his livelihood, accused the reviewer of operating on a lower level of consciousness, and blamed the reviewer for the fact that now people wouldn’t read the book and have their lives saved by what was contained in the book.

Now, me, sitting there on the sidelines, I can see that the author is off kilter.

And, given the comments to that author, I wasn’t the only one feeling that way.

But here’s the problem.  People came into the comment thread and very rationally (to me) explained that some people won’t like a book and it’s not going to ruin an author’s life to receive a one-star review and that responding to reviews is bad form.  Nice, calm, rational responses.

The original reviewer even came in and very calmly offered to give further explanation for their review.  (A good thing since I’ve seen people say that they’ve bought more than one book because of what was said in a one-star review.  “That person didn’t like X?  I love it.  Buy now.”)

The problem is, there’s no rationalizing with that author.  The author isn’t approaching the situation from a perspective of logic.  So with each response they received, they grew more and more agitated, throwing out obscure quotes and ultimately responding IN ALL CAPS and derailing into obscure comments about life-saving and levels of consciousness.

Now, watching the language the author used in their first response, I could predict that was coming.  Some authors and, this is from my personal perspective, aren’t all there mentally.  They write because they feel called to do so, driven by some higher purpose or meaning.  You see it in query letters quoted on places like Slush Pile Hell.

Most of us can rationally understand that a higher power is not guiding us to write our books.  And that, as much as we may want to connect with our readers and change people’s lives, we are not in fact bringing the TRUTH to the masses.

But some authors believe this.  And arguing against that belief gets you nowhere.  It’s a bit like trying to rationalize with the homeless guy on the corner preaching about the world ending today.  Go back tomorrow, he’s not going to see the truth of his delusions, he’ll just shout in your face that the world is going to end TODAY.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone with strong beliefs is off like that.  I’ve known people with very deep and sincere religious beliefs that I respected tremendously and would never want to disparage those beliefs.  But there’s a point where belief becomes delusion.  And it’s not always related to religion either.  (I don’t think it was in this case.)

I can’t define when that line is crossed, but I know it when I see it.  And when I see it, I also know there’s no point in discussion with that person.  They aren’t operating from the same place I am.  My reasoning isn’t going to impact them.  It won’t even register with them.

The other person is not rational in a way that makes sense to me, so there’s no point in trying to “correct” them.

Engaging in an argument with someone like that will never end well.

It’s why I don’t think reviewers and writers should ever argue with one another.  If someone didn’t like your work, so be it.  You can’t send them a new copy and bring them round.  You can’t explain to them what you really meant and get them to see that what you wrote is actually a work of genius that they just needed explained to them in the right way.  (Your work should stand alone.)

They think what they think and you can’t change that.  And shouldn’t try to.  And they have as much right to that opinion as you had to write your book in the first place.

And for anyone out there tempted to enter into one of these conversations either as the author, the reviewer, or the interested bystander–just walk away.  Trust me.  You aren’t going to “fix” or “solve” things by arguing with the participants.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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