Everyone is Fair Game

In Message  #1466, Matt Furey wrote an interesting article in which he said, “Recently, a friend who has launched his own successful website wrote to tell me that the hooligans are on the attack on Internet discussion forums. Their criticisms of him are totally unjust and untrue – yet they are there to read for anyone who comes to the site.”

I think Matt hit on an extremely important issue that is a reality in today’s Internet world – so much so that I thought it would be productive to expand on it a bit. To lay the groundwork, I want to begin by reprinting below some miscellaneous excerpts from mostly one-star reviews (the worst rating possible) on Amazon.com that I extracted for this article.

Reviewer #1:

“Seven Ways to Waste a Day. There is not a single new idea in the whole book. If you don’t know already what is in this book, you are too stupid to understand it. The whole Covey program is an overpriced waste of time.”

Obviously referring to a book that didn’t make it in the marketplace, right? Not quite. How about the biggest-selling motivational book of all time, according to The New York Times! That’s right, it’s Steven Covey’s The  7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey not only has built a career on this book, but a huge company to boot.

Reviewer #2:

“The only good news is the book has so little substance it took me only an hour to read it.”

Another loser, right? Hardly. The reviewer is referring to Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, listed by The New York Times as one of the biggest-selling motivational books of all time. Since writing this book, Harvey Mackay has written many other best-sellers and has gone on to become one of the highest-paid and in-demand speakers in the world.

Reviewer #3:

“His [the author’s] vision of globalization is a very narrow one because of his lack of exposure to the real world outside the U.S. and of the ivory towers of academia.”

Narrow vision of globalization? If I had to use one sentence to describe Thomas Friedman’s New York Times #1 best-selling book The  Lexus and the Olive Tree, it would be that it is the broadest vision of globalization I have ever read. And that’s coming from me, someone who disagrees with most of Friedman’s political ideology. I simply didn’t allow Friedman’s ideology to stand in the way of his brilliant writing and incredible knowledge of the phenomenon of globalization.

Reviewer #4:

“At times, Kiyosaki himself reminds me of a presenter from Amway, Primerica, or some other MLM pyramid scheme … With the constant plugging of his other products, Kiyosaki tries to hook readers into thinking that he knows the “secret” of being rich, and if you keep buying his stuff, eventually you’ll ‘discover’ it.”

You guessed it – it’s the landmark book Rich  Dad, Poor Dad, which has sold millions of copies worldwide. While I don’t agree with everything Kiyosaki says, his book is loaded with great ideas and, as a bonus, is cleverly written and enjoyable to read.

Reviewer #5:

“This book was very disappointing. I was about 2/3 of the way through and I finally had to quit. … In my opinion, it was depressing and definitely should not be in the category of ‘self-help,’ unless you’re trying to help yourself get really down and out.”

The book? It’s none other than Dr. Phil’s Self  Matters. I mean, knocking the book that catapulted Dr. Phil McGraw into the enterprise now known simply as “Dr. Phil” borders on sacrilegious. Sure, Oprah lit the match. But Dr. Phil has taken the rocket ship into outer space on his own merits.

And on and on it goes. You can even find bad reader reviews for Will Durant, Eric Hoffer, and many other literary giants. And as much as I know this will shock you, you can even find bad reader reviews for books written by (sigh) yours truly.

My favorite bad review for one of my books (can’t remember which one) is from a guy who said that what bothered him was that I was using my book as a platform for my own opinions. I’m not kidding. Someone actually wrote that.

Duhhh … helloooo. The whole purpose of a self-development book is for the author to convey his opinions to the reader!

Don’t get me wrong. People have an absolute right to give their honest opinions about any book they read. I’ve certainly read many best-sellers that I didn’t like. It’s just a reminder that you can’t please everyone.

So even though the vast majority of reviews for all of the books I mentioned above are very positive and carry 5-star ratings, my reason for excerpting from a handful of negative reviews is that I find them to be comforting.

I say comforting, because they graphically demonstrate that even the most successful among us not only get criticized, but are often disliked by huge numbers of people. Just imagine how hated super-successful people such as Bill Clinton, George Bush, Bill O’Reilly, and Rush Limbaugh are.

If you look at how they made it to the top, I think it’s fair to say that none of them would be there if they weren’t hated by millions of people. Why so? Because the other side of the hate coin is that there are millions of people who also love them.

The only way I know to avoid the negative opinions of others is to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing. I found this out early in my career when I created a firestorm with my first New York Times #1 best-seller, Winning through Intimidation. Self-righteous critics relentlessly tried to paint me as the second coming of Lucifer.

When I was a guest on Ted Koppel’s Nightline, he opened the show by introducing me as “The Apostle of Intimidation.” I’ve always been thankful that we were in different studios, because when he made that smart-aleck remark, I had an uncontrollable urge to break through the mousse shell that adorned the top of his head and mess up his hair on national television.

I immediately took umbrage with Koppel’s mischaracterization of me, and explained that Winning through Intimidation was a  misleading title because it was actually a book that showed the reader how to protect himself from those who would try to intimidate him. (The book has since been updated, rewritten, and more appropriately titled To Be or Not to Be Intimidated?)

I’m not a big fan of Hollywood, but I tend to believe most of the actors who complain about tabloid stories that say totally untrue things about them. Even at my level, I have read more articles about myself that were fabricated out of thin air than I care to remember.

So, yes, all this should be comforting to you. It’s a reminder that the criticism others sometimes aim your way, which occasionally includes slanderous and defamatory remarks, is part and parcel to the game of success. (And, I would argue, to the broader game of life.)

Making it to the top doesn’t make you less vulnerable to criticism; it makes you more so. I again point to Bill Clinton and George Bush as classic examples of this.

Remember, you cannot force people to like you or your work. You cannot even force them to stop saying bad things about you – unless you want to spend the rest of your life involved in lawsuits that require you to prove damages.

The sad reality is that human beings, to one extent or another, tend to be jealous of the success of others. Accept it and simply write it off as a fact of life. The only thing you have the power to change is how you react to criticism.

As I say in the updated edition of Looking Out for #1, “When someone tries to twist your words, change your meanings, or restate your intentions, you may instinctively feel like lashing out and defending yourself. There’s a natural inclination to want to prove to the world that what has been said about you is false. … Unfortunately, once your emotions reach that point, the slanderer has won.”

There is a great deal of bitterness in our world due to feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and failure, and the neurotic individual often feels that he can vent his frustration only by tearing down others. Don’t take the bait. If you want to drive your enemies crazy, ignore them!

My point is that it’s within your power to ignore the criticism and ugly remarks of others. I find that the less you make of someone else’s criticisms, lies, or slanderous comments, the more quickly they tend to fade away.

Barry Bonds has chosen to carry a sour-grapes attitude and shift the blame (for his “unaware” use of steroids) to the media. Which is a total turnoff to sports fans and might even keep him out of the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

By contrast, I will never forget how impressed I was when tabloid headlines were screaming that New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza was gay. Piazza did only one interview, and said to the interviewer in a calm, straightforward manner, “I’m not gay.” No anger, no hysteria, no scowl. As a result, the story died in a matter of days.

The reality is that you are going to be criticized – and sometimes slandered and lied about. So you shouldn’t let it throw you into a state of emotional turmoil when it occurs. Take heart by reminding yourself that it happens to high-profile people all the time.

The impact of a negative remark aimed at you will very much depend upon how you handle it. Your mindset should be that it’s no big deal – it’s just a part of life.

Which is fine, so long as you don’t allow it to become a major part of your life.