Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The value of an opinion

We all know that part of the value of an opinion lies in the holder of that opinion.   After all, if your tone-deaf neighbor loves your singing - well, that really says nothing about your singing, and only says a little about your neighbor.  Your neighbor might just be trying to be polite, or maybe your neighbor does love your singing.  As for your singing -- who knows?  It might be absolutely horrible, breathtakingly beautiful, or anything in between.  And frankly, it wouldn't be any different if your tone-deaf neighbor hated your singing.

So that's the unskilled opinion-holder, the opinion holder with no ability.  These opinion holders may be wonderful people, and their opinion might have value in that it makes you feel good, but they will never be able to render a truly valuable opinion on the topic at hand.

Then you have your biased opinion holders.  Your mother loves absolutely everything you wear, while your ex-boyfriend thinks you may as well put on an old potato sack, because nothing you wear looks good. And in all likelihood, the truth is somewhere in between.  While it may be true that beauty (and lack of beauty) is in the eyes of the beholder, that doesn't do much good when you're trying to determine whether or not that dress really does make you look fat - or fabulous.

By definition, if you are seeking someone's opinion, the issue is subjective.  I don't need your opinion to know whether I'm taller than my sister, I just need a tape measure.  I don't need your opinion to know if I weigh more now than I did a year ago, I just need a scale.  These aren't opinions, they are facts.

And of course there are many things that are hybrids.  Is Tiger Woods a better golfer than I am?  Absolutely.  That's not an opinion, it's not subjective, it's a fact.  But is Tiger a better golfer than Rory McIlroy?   That depends... which year, which particular game, and what criteria are you using to determine 'better'?  There's your hybrid situation.

But let's get back to the purely subjective.  For any book that you like, song that you like, even food that you like, you can be certain that - somewhere out there, there's someone who does not like it.  And vice versa.

So how do you determine the value of an opinion on something that's truly just a matter of opinion? You look at your opinion-holder, of course  (which is the same as saying 'consider the source').. and you gather opinions from multiple sources.    And you try to weed out the unskilled, and the biased.  And sometimes... just sometimes...  the opinion holder  has an opinion that does not match their previous history of opinions on similar issues.  This - THIS - is an opinion with tremendous value.  And it's not just this stray, 'contrary-to-previous-opinions' opinion that suddenly has value....  This contrary opinion renders value to ALL previous opinions of that opinion holder.. this opinion holder is not as biased as you might have believed.

Yes, I know.  Your mother always told you 'if you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all'.  But sometimes, saying something that is less than nice, can be the nicest gift of all.

I know that there are many out there who like Lipton, or Twinings, or PG Tips, but in my opinion, the best tea is Typhoo.  Of course, I also like Bewleys a lot, which adds value to my opinion about Typhoo. Having said that, I think I'll have a cup of tea -- no, make that two.. one of Typhoo, and one of Bewleys -- while I consider which one I like better.  Or at least which one I like better, today.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Knowing when to apologize

Some people just don't get it.

By now I would have thought that we were all aware of the importance of taking a moment to consider, before posting something to our Facebook page.  But apparently, I'm wrong.  

Recently, a woman who has not only written books, but actually has a publisher, posted something on her FB page.  An everyday occurrence.  Authors often take advantage of FB and other social media to communicate with their fans and promote their books.  But what she posted -- well, while it communicated with her fans, it certainly did not promote her books.  This author posted something to the effect of  
Hey, quit bothering me with stupid questions.  I don't have time to tell you the order of my books, or when my next one is coming out.  I have more important things to do.
Yes, I'm paraphrasing, but she truly did use the phrase 'stupid questions'.

As you might imagine, quite a firestorm erupted, with people pointing out things such as the fact that the requested information did not appear on her website, and that as an author she should be nice to her fans and potential fans.  And in an ideal world, Ms. Author would have made changes to her website, and perhaps made a note to herself to be a bit more positive in her FB postings, and maybe even apologized.  At a minimum, Ms. Author should have just let the matter drop.  

But she didn't.

She responded to those who said she should be nice, and told them that she didn't have to be nice because she was a good author, and then they got nasty, and she got nasty, and they got nastier, and she got nastier.... and among other things, there seemed to be a growing number of people who said 'I've never read your books before, but after this, I'm not going to.'


Not long after, Ms. Author put up a new post on her FB page.  She said her publisher had told her to remove that earlier post that began with her telling people to quit bothering her with stupid questions. I'm pretty sure she called that post an Apology... but I might be wrong.  Whether she called it an apology or not, it most certainly was not.  Instead, Ms. Author went on at length about how unfair it was that she wasn't allowed to vent .. and how unfair it was that people wouldn't buy her books if they didn't like what she said. People who knew her, knew that she was nice and it wasn't her fault that people were stupid and didn't realize how precious her time was and how important it was that she be free from distractions so she could write more books.  And yes, she truly did say 'stupid questions' and 'stupid people'.

Double ouch.

And....  as you might imagine, that post turned into a nasty mess of name calling, until her publisher insisted she take down that post as well.  (Which is why I can't be certain she called the second post an apology.)

Now this is not someone who I follow.  I heard about the initial post from someone else, and decided to check it out. I had never heard of Ms. Author before, and I've never read anything she's written.  And after reading her initial post and her responses, and then her follow-up post and her responses, I don't intend to read anything she's written.  

Perhaps Ms. Author thought that making a scene would get her a lot of attention, and that attention would result in people becoming curious and buying her books.  But I'm pretty sure that's not what she accomplished.  You see, there is such a thing as bad publicity.  And while I don't take the view that an author has an obligation to 'connect' with the reading public, I do think that if an author chooses to be 'out there', they need to show a modicum of  respect to their readers and potential readers.  And from the responses she received to her posts, there are a lot of people who feel the way that I do.

It's unfortunate.  We all have bad days... and I suspect the initial post was not a planned marketing strategy, but was merely the consequence of a bad day.  Had Ms. Author then apologized,  and moved on, I suspect she might have actually acquired some additional readers.  But she didn't know when to apologize.  

While (unsuccessfully) looking for some images for this post, I found the following quote:
Apologizing does not always mean that you're wrong.  It just means that you value your relationship more than your ego. * It's very easy to become defensive, but it's more important to know when to apologize.  And it's equally important to think about those Facebook posts before you hit the 'enter' key.

And of course it's most important to not let the kettle boil dry.  So I'm off for a cup of tea, and perhaps a good book.  But not one written by Ms. Author.

*My apologies to the author of this quote... I found the quote in a lot of different locations, but was never able to determine who the author was, to give credit.