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August 21, 2004Top

* Critique is not an assault

Dear Pesare gol, ["Few and far between"]

Instead of being agitated by constructive criticism ["Reason to be proud"], take it in the spirit it was offered. I do not claim to be perfect, my sentences may also run (by the way, I checked it, it is only missing a single comma, otherwise it is basically OK). You might consider learning how to read punctuated sentences. Besides I do not think I need to be flawless before I can dispense advice. If that had been true, no parent, teacher, or cleric could ever guide their charges.  

However I am astounded as to how you have managed to interpret my response to you in such a way to merit the reaction you have now provided! Where is this California Iranian business coming from? Did I ever say anything about THAT? When I say Iranian, I mean Iranian, I do not mean Iranian American, Californian Iranian or any other subdivision. It is all inclusive. In fact my exact phrase was; “I am proud that in Iran there are brave people who stand up against tyranny and corruption”.

Read it carefully this time. I say that there are brave people IN IRAN who stand against corruption and tyranny. I never said there are Iranians in California who get themselves thrown into prison for Iran. And if you believe that there are very few people in Iran that stand against tyranny and corruption – as you so state now, then you are as sorely mistaken as when you claimed that Hafez lived thousands of years ago or Muhammad and Ali lived at the time of Fath-Ali Shah Qajar (two centauries ago).

Pesar e gol, my intention in correcting you was to help you become a better writer and be taken more seriously by your audience. When one goes public, one cannot have glaring errors of fact like the ones you had in your article. Do you know how many emails I have got from total unknowns who are lampooning you? I do not welcome these messages, I am saddened by them, I do not wish to receive them. However, somehow the senders thought it justified to send me these, simply because I tried to help you by correcting your errors.

This behavior of theirs is a mistake but it shows that you have shot your credibility dead at least amongst some people. Now instead of accepting criticism with grace, you go off on a tangent and say a bunch of incoherent things about Iranian Americans and the UN office etc. that I find very difficult to relate to the original discussion.

Writing is not about shooting off your mouth, or letting loose your fingers on a keyboard. The kind of writing you are trying to delve into, must be considered, collected, precise and accurate in facts.  It should show maturity in content, in style and in philosophy. You mentioned that you were hurried when you wrote your article.

A writing of the nature with which you took our  time must never be hurried. If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well. Next time when you want to write, do it when you have more time. Your writings will be read by others, give them the courtesy of not wasting their time, misinforming them or misleading them.

Do you realize that your writing might have been read by a teenager who would then go on believing that Hafez lived thousands of years ago? Did you ever consider the ten year old who would as a consequence of reading your article mistakenly learn that Muhammad and Ali lived only two hundred years ago or the portion between the torso and the buttocks is referred to as “waste” and not “waist”?

A writer has a public responsibility. If you wish to have an audience, then you must work hard to improve significantly. Otherwise your writings would bring negative impact, ultimately they would be detrimental to you and your cause or causes.

I remember many years ago when I published my first publication. I was so enormously proud of seeing my name in print. I was young and my writing was immature, off-the-cuff and flawed. Decades hence, I am still embarrassed of that writing and still wish that I had not proceeded with it.

Many years and over 100 internationally distributed publications later, my colleagues still tease me about that first one. It is a friendly tease but it is a reminder to me that one must not shoot off one’s mouth without consideration, one must not write off-the-cuff. In my critiquing your submission, I was trying to help you so in thirty years or so, you would not feel the same way.

I am sure there will be people out there who would tease you on you putting Muhammad Sham al din Hafez several thousand years before Muhammad the prophet (who was obviously the namesake of the former mentioned). I was not trying to tease you, I was trying to teach you a lesson.

As an old man (or at least rapidly aging, if not out-right old J ) and a professor who teaches this sort of stuff, I was just trying to help. I used humor to wake you up a bit and mild critique to shake you up a bit. I have found that these techniques work very well on my students, so I used them on you. I do the same with my son who is a student of journalism and political science. I took you as my e-son (internet son).

Unfortunately your response indicates that you have not taken my comments in the spirit provided. You have taken offence. No problem, but none was intended (tease yes, mild agitation, yes, offence, no). This may be a consequence of any number of potential things such as your youth, your inexperience or simply a quirk of your psyche.

All I am saying is that I beg you, do not embarrass yourself by sending postings and articles that give you -as the author- and us as a community, a bad name. Also please read the writings of others with the care that they deserve. Do not misinterpret or misrepresent them and their statements. And, do not waste other peoples’ time by providing a response to a statement that has nothing or very little to do with the contents of the original statement.

Finally, and  most importantly, take criticism, particularly positive criticism in stride. I guess many of us need to learn that. As a nation we tend to be offended too quickly and interpret critique as assault. When someone spends time critiquing you, he/she is not trying to hurt you or embarrass you, he /she is trying to help. If you deserve critique, chances are you have already embarrassed yourself, the critique is designed to prevent future occurrences of the same kind of behavior.

My regards and respect to you with wishes for a better writing future.


Houman Younessi

P.S.: I was not mocking the six year old with the grenade attached to his waist. In delivering my point home, I was using humor to mildly tease YOU! It is a teaching technique. The entire story is a sad one, and not unique. I restate my original statement – with which you incidentally disagreed – that there are many people IN IRAN that stand in front of tanks and machine guns, go to jail and fight tyranny and corruption. Some are six years old.

I said that I was proud of these people, you disagreed. Now you say that I should be proud of the six year old because he killed himself for me. This is what I do not understand about your writing. These two statements of yours are contradictory and irreconcilable. Irreconcilable contradictory statements make a writing illogical and therefore weak. This is the sort of thing about which I am critiquing you.

To go further, I must say that heroic and impressive as the actions of this young boy have been (and regretfully there have been many others), such actions should be entirely unnecessary. Why should anyone of any age attach grenades to their waists and lay waste a tank occupied by some other perfectly healthy young members of the human race? This is a consequence of war, and war is a consequence of nationalism and nationalism is a consequence of fervent national pride. And national pride is what your article was promoting (or at least lamenting the lack of cause for, in recent years). Turn to humanism, to humanity, so that six year olds no longer need to attach grenades to their waists...

Houman Younessi


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