The Hardest Thing About Blogging

There’s something about human nature that no matter how much praise we get, one criticism burns so deeply it seems to negate all the praise and we fixate on that one negative comment.

As it turns out, blogging is probably best for people with an ability to brush off criticism. People who have internalized that not everyone is going to love you or love what you’re doing. And so be it.

I know that in my mind, but my heart has a hard time accepting it.

Blogging means putting yourself out there to the whole world and inviting people to comment on your life and your choices. If I didn’t want that, I would just do what I do and not talk about it on the Internet.

Yet I like the conversation. I like engaging in discussion of various aspects of Hinduism and racial and cultural issues.

It’s a double-edged sword, as they say. I can use my blog to host these discussions but at the same time it opens me up to criticism of my life and my choices.

I like getting new readers and lots of page views and comments (these are the life blood of a blogger!) but the more readers there are, the more chance of someone not liking me. And when I get one criticism I just shrink. I go over and over and over it in my mind. I obsess over how to fix this person’s view of me. I answer and then I think of more answers and more and more. I make it worse. I wonder if my entire life is built on delusion. I hide under my covers and weep.

I thought I had a handle on having a thick skin. I write novels and that’s another area where you’re very exposed to criticism. If someone doesn’t like your book, then they are going to loudly proclaim to the world that you suck and no one could possibly like this book because it’s utter crap. Never mind that there are hundreds of positive reviews. They must all be wrong. Only this one reviewer’s opinion counts. Cause they didn’t like it. It wasn’t their thing. So you as the author should die in a fire. It’s very rough. (And hey, I’ve been known to dole out harsh criticism to books I didn’t like too. The author on this one handled it extremely well).

But I’ve gotten used to that. I hardly ever read reviews on my novels anymore. I put them out there and some people love them and some people hate them, but it’s my art and it’s my message.

I guess the thing that’s different with blogging is that it is open communication. It’s a two-way street. Unlike a novel where it gets written, published, and then you can leave it to gather praise and criticism and discussion all on its own, the thing about blogging is that it’s about conversation.

That’s its up side and its downside all at once!

Discussion is good but it can also be painful. I wonder sometimes about running away from it all. Live my life without the scrutiny of everyone on the Internet. Then I remember that it’s painful because it’s growth.

It’s good for me to hear people’s critiques and consider them. I may agree and change something. I may disagree and not change. Sometimes I have to let people dislike me. That sure is hard for a born people-pleaser!

I get so nicely insulated by all you wonderful folks that I start feeling comfortable and confident being a Hindu and expressing that Hindu-ness in my lifestyle. I start feeling like I’ve got it all figured out. All the positive comments make me feel like part of the group and just totally accepted as a Hindu.

And then someone new comes along and makes me question everything about my life.

***

Of course I knew when I submitted my wedding for inclusion at APracticalWedding.com that people could take it the wrong way. The readers there are not the same as my regular readers here who know me and how hard I work to avoid inappropriate appropriation. I chose to put my wedding on view and in the line of scrutiny. Sure, I had selfish reasons. I wanted to expand my audience here. It also seemed right to share my wedding there, since I’ve been a regular reader and commenter there for years. I thought maybe people would recognize me and be glad to see how my wedding turned out.

{Probably not, though. There’s something about being part of an online community that it’s too easy to feel like there’s a “cool kids” group and you’re desperately trying to break into it and they don’t even know you exist. I definitely feel that at APW. I know that’s a common feeling, though. I mean, just look how many of the posts here are “I stopped posting and waited for someone to notice but no one did.” I know not to expect to be known and remembered on Internet forums. But, like I said, it seemed like since I have been a loyal reader from the start, that it was the right place to share my wedding.}

Along with plenty of happy comments, there are people who feel insulted and one is threatening to stop reading APW because of me. Because I’m an “orientalism fetishist” who thinks Bollywood and Hinduism are the same thing. Because me saying that having a Vedic wedding felt like being a part of The Mahabharata is insulting to the holy text. Because I dared to say that Buddhism and Hinduism aren’t too different from one another. Because I must be someone who just “takes the pretty” and ignores everything else about Hinduism. How could APW post something from someone who clearly just steals from other cultures? [Note: the comments at APW have now been removed, since it is against their comment policy to attack people on their wedding graduate posts]

I wish that people would take the time to find out more about me before assuming that I exotic-ise all things “eastern.” But it’s their right to not like me or to feel hurt by me. Yeah, I appreciate the irony that my feelings are hurt by someone whose feelings I hurt. What a destructive cycle that is!

I know that I risk being appropriative. I know I risk people feeling insulted by my very existence. There’s not a lot I can do about that. I am who I am. I hate that me being me is hurtful to some people. I definitely don’t want that, yet I’m not sure how to avoid it. I have to wonder what she wants me to do. Be a Hindu but don’t show it?  Maybe “don’t exist”? 

Oh wait, that’s exactly what she wants: “If it’s not a culture you were born into – the quick and dirty answer is ‘don’t do it.’”  So there you have it, the gatekeeper for all things Indian. I am not allowed to be myself. Because my lifetime struggle to express my religion in my life should be boiled down to a “quick and dirty” answer.

{I can’t help wondering how much she knows about Hinduism herself since she says there’s no such thing as conversion in Hinduism even though there are at least two Hindu schools who absolutely do do official conversions and the one I’m most familiar with insists on converts dressing in Indian clothes and taking on Hindu and Indian culture. She’s insulted that I said Hinduism and Buddhism have similarities even though Buddha was a Hindu himself. I suppose she knows what her mother has told her and that’s about it. Oh wait, am I making assumptions? Why yes I am. Exactly as she did to me. It seems a tad racist for her to assume that I don’t know what I’m talking about; to assume that I woke up one morning and said, “I think I’ll have an Indian wedding cause it’s so exotic and mysterious and pretty!”}

I’m really sorry that my wedding hurt someone’s feelings. That criticism is going to stay lodged in my heart for a long time. I try very hard to be respectful. However, I stand by my wedding. I am a Hindu and I live as a Hindu. That’s not going to change.

About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • justinwhitaker

    Stay strong, Ambaa! :)

    The internet is full of, well, *interesting* people who feel compelled to give you a piece of their mind. Many turn out to be really nice in person even – but the net just unleashes something nasty inside. Social nicety flies out the window. It’s part of why I left reddit; it seemed like the trolls actually ran some of the communities there. C’est la vie. Some will actually be helpful, which is a good opportunity to check the old ego, others can just be written off; ta ta trolllll…

    • Garvi Sheth

      Good point about how people can be totally different online vs in real life. I’m sure that awful woman would never have said those things to Ambaa’s face.
      What I’ve taken to doing is imagining that any awful person who comments on things on the Internet is a sad friendless 14-year-old who only feels in control of life when s/he is able to ruin a person’s day by anonymously being rude on the Internet. Then I feel more pity than anger. I’m sure this is not accurate, but it makes me feel better sometimes.

      • Ambaa

        lol. That might work to calm me down. I’ll give it a try!

        Your support means the world to me, Garvi. I know that you are someone who is sensitive to cultural appropriation and I trust that you would tell me if I seriously crossed a line.

    • Ambaa

      Reddit scares the hec out of me. I’ve started dipping my toe in the water there, but I’m being extremely cautious.

      btw, I really love your blog and I keep pointing my husband, who is a Buddhist, towards your posts!

  • Keeley

    I wouldn’t pay any mind to the negative comments Ambaa. There are always going to be people that disagree with what you are doing but that certainly doesn’t mean you should stop! As another hindu convert I know that we tread a fine line between expressing our chosen religion and being accused of cultural appropriation. But the people that make these comments don’t know you, they don’t know how sincere your faith is. (And they only have to spend five minutes on this blog to realise how seriously you take hinduism!) Questioning someones faith is wrong and comments that do should be ignored. Please don’t let it upset you! Your wedding was beautiful and so are you.
    I for one am pleased that you are so open about your faith, your blog has taught me a lot about hinduism and what it means to be hindu. I find you very inspiring.

    • Ambaa

      Thank you so much. I will try to remember to come and read your comment the next time I get hit like this! :)

  • HARRY

    Hey Ambaa

    I’ve not had chance to read any of your post this week, been really busy. I am hoping and assuming I am not one of those person. :) I have come across loads of people who just take pretty things from other peoples cultures and use it to their advantage without taking any cultural baggage if you see my point, and I know, you are NOT one of those . So I wouldn’t worry about what others think. It’s not your function to please others. Hinduism is about self first and others later.

    There are times I tell you to change things and there is time I ignore it, and the reason for that is very simple, because there are certain days you get where a whole elephant will go through a hole and there are certain days you will not even let the tail of an elephant pass through it by the same hole. It all depends on how you feel. BTW this is my way for justifying in what I tell you to do. And I don’t mean it in a bad way. But do tell me if you feel like that from me, because I can take it on a chin.

    It’s easier to pass judgement when people don’t know you. Therefore you should ignore them.

    There are loads of hindus who doesn’t know their own religion very well. They are only born hindus, but the one who accepts hinduism has a higher ranking among them, because they have accepted everything about it. And you are right in everything you said in your article and if they can’t accept it, then it’s tuffshit. So I wouldn’t worry about that, if I were you.

    I think you should have used the word Sanatan Dharma which incompasses religion as well as culture and rituals and nobody owns right to that, but in reality we all do as human being, who ever accept it as a vessel for salvation. Therefore one party can not say it’s our and nobody elses. When you use Hinduism people only associate as a religion and nothing else.

    I also think you are throwing yourself in a line of fire when you go on a broader platform. The question is, is it worth it?

    • Ambaa

      Ooo, you’re right, I should have used Santana Dharma there. That’s a good idea. Too late now.

      There are times when I get frustrated with you, but I also appreciate all that you teach me and all that there is still left for me to learn from you.

      The thing about most of the people here is that if you’re a regular commenter, then we can discuss what you object to, you know? Drive-by people who I’ve never talked to before who insult me…It’s a lot harder to not spend days in bed crying over them. Sigh.

      But I can handle negative comments from people who I know are here a lot and care about my journey. Because then we have the chance to talk about it.

      You’re right that I definitely opened myself up to attack by posting on a larger platform. Even though Andrea pointed out that I should have expected it, I really didn’t think that anyone would have a problem with a Hindu having a Hindu wedding. O.o

      I want to grow my audience and bring more people into the discussion, so maybe that’s what makes it worth it to guest post other places?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

    A helpful reminder to be a little more gentle to those receiving my criticism. Thanks.

    • Ambaa

      Your wit and intelligence are terrifying. But I enjoy your posts! And I really (sadly) enjoy your needling of our Christian co-bloggers.

  • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com/ Andrea

    I did not read the comments in question but I’m not surprised someone brought up the topic. In fact, I’d be *more* surprised if no one did. You know that I know your story and where you are coming from so hear me out on this. But first, go read this article:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sarah-milstein/5-ways-white-feminists-can-address-our-own-racism_b_3955065.html

    I think that when someone brings up the point of cultural appropriation, no matter how misguided you think they sound, it is important to listen. Listen to that person’s anger, why they are upset, and don’t just try to reassure them that you’re “not really like that.” Doing so, telling them in effect, “You’re wrong! Just let me explain myself, let me talk, let me tell you why you are mistaken” invalidates their emotions and reactions, which are absolutely valid and come out of their own life experience. Listen to what they have to say. Let them talk. Examine yourself and see where it is possible that your impact was in fact racist or appropriative. We as white people are sometimes not able to see these things without someone pointing them out; that’s part and parcel of white privilege. And when they’re pointed out, that the actions we are doing hurt people, we need to stop doing them. There are ways to live out your life and faith that are inclusive and respectful; not saying you’re not already doing that but these are great opportunities for us to check our blind spots, as it were.

    Additionally, defensiveness does no good for you or for the person you are speaking to. You do live between cultures in a very real way but you are still learning things, as am I, and it is good to realize when things that we may be doing with best intentions actually have a negative impact.

    There will always be people from Hindu cultures who will blanket-approve everything you do (often called “cosigning” by antiracist activists.) There are also those who will blanket-disapprove of everything you do. You will never be able to please everybody but pleasing people isn’t the goal. This isn’t something that you do or do not do to get an antiracist ally cookie. If you are acting in solidarity, the goal is to help create a world that is MORE JUST FOR ALL, and to find those ways in which we, on purpose or unintentionally, participate in perpetuating injustice, and change our actions and mindsets so that we can create a more just world.

    So listen to these critics. Dialogue with them, if possible (often internet conversations with strangers are not the best place for true dialogue), but either way, listen. They have something very important to say, and while the conversations may be unpleasant, they are important to reflect on as you make decisions in your life, and life is all about the choices we make. You will be able to make informed decisions as to whether a particular action helps to create more justice and equality in the world or serves to keep the same power structures in place that oppress and hurt people.

    • Ambaa

      I certainly try hard to learn from them. It honestly wasn’t at all clear what she was objecting to. She started off by acknowledging me as a Hindu and saying that was fine, but she seemed maybe upset that I wore a lengha to my wedding. I’m not sure how I could possibly fix that. I can be a Hindu but I should wear a Christian dress to get married in?

      She said that the culture was not the same thing as the religion but somewhere else said they were difficult to separate. And that’s exactly my point. Where do you separate those things?

      The thing that hurt me the most was her shutting down the dialog with the “just don’t do it.” She’s allowed to have her feelings, of course. But I also have mine.

      I know. I still have a ways to go to learn not to be racist.

      • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com/ Andrea

        This is why the internet is not the best medium for dialogue. It’s hard to ask for clarification, and a 500-word blog comment is by definition not going to be able to make clear everything that person is saying. It’s good for awareness, but I think that discussing these things, as well as pretty much EVERYTHING, is best done in relationship. Harry will call you up on the carpet if he thinks he needs to. So will Garvi. But you know them, and they know you. Internet criticism its great for seeing how your actions come off to others on the surface, how the person on the road perceives you. It’s a litmus test of sorts, to see your impact. But those unclear things that frustrate you, most likely you’re not going to get the answers from online strangers making drive-by comments.

        It is fine for her to shut down the dialogue; she does not have to be the source on all things racism. There are always others you can take the conversation to in order to learn more, people you are in relationship with. You will hardly ever find nuance in internet comments, simply reaction: This is bad, don’t do it. This is good, do more of it. Dwelling on drive-by comments is very counterproductive and leads to guilt and defensiveness instead of reflection and action. So I guess the best thing to do is to let it go, but file it away.

        • Ambaa

          Good advice, though hard to follow! :)

  • http://blogfollowup.wordpress.com/ Ashes77

    It’s a good blog post. I’m always a little snarky, even in my sleep, but you’re right. I’m going to be nicer from now on.

    • Ambaa

      Aw, don’t worry about that! I’ll just ask you what you mean if I feel hurt by a comment of yours. :)

  • http://quiteahindu.blogspot.com/ Curious

    I find it hard to believe, whenever you mention it. Coz its so stupid. Either they are trolls, or having psychological issues.

    Please ignore them… and it does seem that internet seems to be full of more of such people, probably cuz of the wide exposure.

    Somewhat related .. I made a post – a simple picture saying ‘remembering the genius of Steve Jobs’. And one supposedly very “smart”guy commented – “What Genius??” … then went on to post some totally unrelated drivel.

    Cynics like these whether online or real, are best ignored. Unfortunately, they get more attention on the net (or media) than in real life coz people try to “listen to all sides” – which brings in such trash too.

    I am sure that people you meet in real life, Hindus and others would be much better and cool than these ….

    I am no one to advice or give suggestions, yet I would say one should religiously ignore people (among others) who:

    1. dont have a trace of humility, act “know-it-all”
    2. claim that they understand or know you “very well”
    3. …. i’ve forgotten what else I wanted to add ..

    In any case … best wishes for everything you do in life.

    • Ambaa

      Hehehe. Thank you :) You made me smile!

  • Ambaa

    That makes a lot of sense to me. So let me sum up what I hear you saying:

    Ways to become a Hindu:
    1) Born a Hindu
    2) Devote ones self to a guru and his path
    3) Marry a Hindu and take on the culture and religion of the family
    4) Become devoted to a particular God and have sincere bhakti for Him.

    Do I understand correctly?

    For myself I would say that I am more a path of jnana person than of bhakti, but I do have sincere devotion for the Gods. I worship Shiva in my home altar.

    I have had a lot of issues with gurus and the concept of gurus, but I’m healing from that. I was devoted in the past to a guru who I felt betrayed by, and so that’s why I’m really sensitive about having that full devotion to a guru. However, I really do trust my parents’ guru Sri Bharati Tirtha and I feel pretty close to accepting him as my guru also.

    Which brings up the first point. I was born into Advaita. Though I wasn’t told it was a form of Hinduism…still, it was. So whether I was born into it or not is kind of up for debate! :)

  • Ambaa

    :)

  • TF1

    BUT IN BIG PICTURE as Swami Vivekananda said:

    “Religion is not in doctrines, in dogmas, nor
    in intellectual argumentation; it is being and
    becoming, it is realisation.”

    • HARRY

      @ TF So, which one are you going for it your self, what Swami Vivekananda said or your original answer. Just curious, because if you look at from philosophy point of view they contradict each other. BTW I know what you are trying to say in above comments.

      • TF1

        u may know Hindu (indian) civilization is the only ancient civilization which continues to exist & every other ancient civilization has disappeared.(u can just read about ancient greeks & their beliefs but u can’t find them).
        i think if u wanna preserve a Hindu CULTURE or way of life bhakti is essential .Philosophy doesn’t matter much to masses we just need some rules to lead their life in a good way & believe in the god whose stories they have heard from their childhood days & pray to them.
        realization part should come as part of your experiences in life (not by reading books etc) it may take 1 or many lifetimes on u get that get fixated on path to moksha but this should be comming from within.
        in olden days people perused gyaan(ultimate knowledge) through bhakti & karma once you get knowledge you are automatically set on the path of moksha

        • HARRY

          :)


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