(In response to Dr Justin Coleman’s Medical Observer column “Irritating my whole profession”)
Dr Justin Coleman may be irritating to many, but to me he remains a hero. I’ve long admired his talents as a writer, speaker, physician and musician. Much as I wish it was otherwise, I have no chance of ever matching his self-deprecating, satirical wit or deft word-play. Likewise, I have neither the passion nor the stomach for being pugilistic for a cause, but I’m ever so grateful that the Justins of the world are willing to do so.
Unlike many university students, I never went through the marching-in-the-streets, burning-my-bra phase, partly because I didn’t fancy sunburn or unsupported breasts, but mostly because I was too busy working to support myself through med school. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that wasn’t able to summon up the necessary drive or single-mindedness to become an activist, then or subsequently, but I sympathise with and admire those who do. Especially those who cop a heap of flack doing so – the “seasoned warriors” amongst us.
In his recent post, “Irritating my whole profession”, Justin gives us a taste of the feedback he’s received in response to the “No Advertising Please” campaign. From “poopy cock” to “unresponsible”, the vitriol again reinforces my observation that the best haters tend to be the worst spellers. I’ve never understood why the outraged will happily criticise others for their choice of words, but don’t seem to hold their own up to the same level of scrutiny.
During my tenure as a Last Word columnist for Australian Doctor, I received a surprising amount of hate mail. Surprising to me at least, not because I thought I was above criticism, but because I was writing a light-hearted fluff column. The erroneous assumption I made was that as I didn’t take myself seriously, neither would others. I once had someone write a three page rant about how offended she was about a particular column (which was, incidentally, about my dislike of dogma and black-and-white thinking). She was obviously quite crazy (concerning in itself given that she is, presumably, a practising doctor).
Mind you, I was also criticised for being trite. Some people went to the trouble of writing unsigned letters to say that reading my column wasted their precious time. I never could comprehend why they wasted more time by bothering to complain I’d wasted their time. When you find something boring or offensive, isn’t it just easier to stop reading or watching it?
I’m all for constructive criticism, and like a good whinge as much as the next person, but I can’t see why being petty and mean is anything but… petty and mean. Free speech is an important right, but does it really need to be exercised quite so pointlessly?
They say that unlike sticks and stones, words will never hurt you, but that is a load of poppycock and balderdash, or, as Justin’s detractor would say, “poopy-cock and bolder-dash”. Much as I tried to ignore the more extreme character assignations, they did cause the occasional flesh wound. I hope that Justin has thicker skin than I and has thus dodged any bruises from misspelled threats to hurtle tomatoes or otherwise.
It certainly helps to laugh at the situation though, and Justin wields his comedic pen with aplomb to do just that. I dips me lid to you, Justin. You have my admiration and moral support, but for now at least, I’ll do so from the sidelines, sitting safely, and some would say cowardly, on the fence.