How Not to Congratulate Someone

I wrote this on Twitter today, and am posting it here both for archival purposes and also because, hey, it’s applicable in this medium as well.

A general statement because it’s happened to me more than once here on Twitter and elsewhere:

So, hey, if I’m noting a good thing happening in my career and your response to it is to dump on another author/creator in some way, you’re ruining it for me.

Now, here’s why (thread).

1. Because that author/creator you’re dumping on might be a friend, or someone I otherwise like and respect. It’s not fun to have someone else dump on your friends, even (especially) when it’s couched in praise for you.

2. Because success is not a zero-sum game: In nearly all cases I do not succeed by making someone else fail. Dumping on other authors/creators to praise me plays up the Highlander Theory of Success (“there can be only one!”) which is really not how it works at all.

3. Because when you dump on someone else while praising me, whether you know it or not, you leave me in the position of either having to say something about it, or saying nothing, which can be taken to be an implicit acceptance of the dumping. You make me police a happy moment.

4. Because, really, it’s kind of weird. It’s okay to just say “Congrats!” or some such without then going on to trash some other person. If you find yourself doing that, please give some thought to why you thought you needed to do that.

Now, I understand that some of you don’t intend to be rude or awful, you mean to be clever and funny. But remember that the failure mode of “clever” is “asshole.” Someone who is being trashed on will see your words but not your intent (as will everyone else). So think.

Also, I understand that some might feel that if the person you’re trashing on is (by your estimation) famous and/or rich, then maybe a little online trashing is par for that course. But a) ugh, and b) it doesn’t follow that you should do it in that thread. Make your own.

You don’t raise me up by trashing other people. You drag me down. And when you do that you make it less likely I’m going to share good news here, because I don’t want to have to wade through people trashing on friends and colleagues in what should be a happy moment.

So, please, keep in mind, for me and for others: You can be happy for the people you like without trashing other people. Give it a try. Thank you.

30 Comments on “How Not to Congratulate Someone”

  1. As someone will inevitably ask “But what about the Puppies?”:

    1. I mean, it was years ago now. We can let it go, particularly in a post/thread that’s not about them.

    2. You will note in any event that it’s very rare for me to single out any particular Puppy (or refer to any of them by name).

    3. They’re already dealing with the karmic (and professional) load of what they did; anything I do, or any good thing that happens to me, won’t tip the scale for any of them appreciably one way or another.

    So that’s where I am on those dudes.

  2. Applicable to all successes and failures! If I get a promotion at work, please don’t “congratulate” me by talking about someone else. Tell me how awesome I am for my achievement, not how much you dislike another person. And if I didn’t get a promotion that you felt I had earned? Please just give me your condolences, don’t tell me how much you dislike the person who got it. It just makes things awkward for everyone.

  3. 2. Because success is not a zero-sum game

    Sadly, this is something that Donald Trump has never learned, whether about trade deals, deficits, or whatever.

  4. It’s sad that this post is necessary. It reminds me of the conversations I have with my 5th graders (which is the appropriate age to have this conversation, not when you’re an adult).

  5. I agree with what you say — praise is not a zero-sum game. But what was the good news that prompted this — anything you care to share with us non-Twits?

  6. My first thought when I saw the e-mail notification with the blog entry title was “That’s why we can’t have nice things”, like a mental facepalm. Always the same kind of “trash author X” reaction. It would be understandable if this was a very obscure, hard concept to cope with, but that’s not the case!
    Rule 1- Be gentle and polite to everyone.
    Rule 2- In case of doubt, apply Rule 1.
    Sorry for the mini-rant, but this kind of thing pisses me off.

    Congrats, John! To reach Amazon’s number 1 may be a transitory state surrounded in the misteries of the Bezosverse, but you worked hard for it over the years and you deserve it. Grab a cold Zero Coke of Victory and drink it like the King of the Amazon Realm!

  7. Congrats to you!

    Success is better when you don’t feel like you’re being held accountable for holding others down. At least, for me and for people I respect (like you).

  8. Still cool if, after the customary congratulations, we still remark something to the effect of “Not bad for a hack writer being propped up by a failing publisher to virtue signal a vanishingly small minority of SJWs who don’t buy books anyway”? Cause that shit’s never gonna stop being funny to me.

  9. I’ve always found it strange for people to trash talk the competition anyway. If I’m the best, don’t I want to be the best amongst the best? If you’re insulting the people I’ve currently outranked, you’re insulting my accomplishment as well – it’s not as cool to be atop a trash heap as it is, say, Kilimanjaro.

  10. Queerly, it was just today that I read (in an article on humor by Joel Goodman) that a grade five teacher got her students to stop doing put-down humor by posting on the classroom wall a quotation: “You don’t have to blow out my candle to make yours glow brighter.”

  11. Another aspect to this behavior is–it’s not exactly “forced teaming,” but it’s in the same neighborhood.

    Telling a science fiction writer “you’re so much better than romance writers” (made-up example; I didn’t see the tweet that prompted this) is obviously not in the same league as being an abuser or a con artist but it’s that same tactic, of “clearly we are friends, you and me are here at the cool kids’ table, unlike that other person,” with the silent, implied “but disagree with me and see how fast you’re out.”

    Even if you couldn’t possibly care less if that person thinks your cool, that public assertion that you two are on the same ‘team’ is left sitting there, like a turd on your doorstep. If someone’s insulting you directly, you can assume people will know you disagree and just ignore it. But if someone’s insulting someone else to you, then as you say, it creates that duty to correct. That, in itself, is a power play: it’s staking the rhetorical ground wherein you have to actively disagree with them or else be seen as ‘on their side,’ even when they’re saying something completely unworthy of comment.

    It’s essentially drawing you into the middle of their conflict by presuming to put you on one side of it. So either you stay on that side of it or you actively step off, but you can no longer just carry on blissfully uninvolved.

  12. *SIGH*

    Nothing surprises me these days.

    Besides, everyone knows that Smudge is the power behind the throne at Amazon and he arranged for you to get some ego boo to distract you from his plans for world domination-right after his nap.

  13. When I first saw this admonishment, I thought for sure you, Scalzi, had started it even if in a light-hearted way. So I went back through your feed, and sure enough you hadn’t said anything explicitly about anyone else. But then I squinted and could see why I thought that. It is much more natural to assume two people are in competition than if you had posted a screenshot of just your ranking or even of the top 10.

  14. “You’re better than him” is not the same as ‘You’re good.” The first assumes that you measure yourself against others. Not everything is a competition, and even in a competitive situation it’s probably better to say “You out-performed the field today.” People forget that Tom Brady has lost a couple Super Bowls too.

  15. Kind of sad when people go that route, no matter what the situation may be. If I hear good news from somebody, either in the real world or on social media, I always give them a heartfelt “Congrats!”, simply because that person is letting you know that they did something notable that they want to share with everyone.

  16. When I am pretending to be human, you are exactly the kind of human I want to be. Some of us need hit on the head to remind us that we don’t have to stomp on others for our own happiness.

  17. “The failure mode of clever is asshole.”
    Damn, that is so right. There have been moments when I should have had that branded on my cheek.

  18. Excellent post. I think the act of dumping on another is a poor attempt to elevate the “congrats” a little higher. Unfortunately it’s done at the expense of pushing another down. Not cool. (I don’t write that as an excuse but as an attempt to understand why it’s done.)

    As an aside, like others I love the “The failure mode of clever…” I’ve accidentally slipped into that in other situations. :-( I need to do better!

  19. No one compliments you more than I do. I admire you so much. I like you almost as much as kittens.

  20. @Fae: “I’ve always found it strange for people to trash talk the competition anyway. If I’m the best, don’t I want to be the best amongst the best?”

    I never get this about boxers especially, but any situation where one participant/team in an upcoming match claims the other is useless/rubbish etc. I understand each side wants to avoid talking themselves into a defeatist mindset and instead build up their self-belief as strongly as possible: it is a situation (unlike creative acts like writing, acting, music etc) where you are actually in one-on-one competition. But if I hear excessive negative mouthing off of an opponent I am more inclined to think, well, so it’s no big deal or accomplishment if you beat him/her/them then is it? And why should I or anyone else be interested in the match and its result?

  21. Agree with everything Scalzi said, of course.

    I will however vaguely side with the view that trash-talk has its purpose at times, particularly in open competition. Boxers, wrestlers, comedians, rappers often use it to great effect, even when it’s over-the-top and cheesy. Sometimes it’s playful, which is ok in my mind. Sometimes it can be nasty and outright mendacious, which is never ok. Some people can’t tell the difference, which is the real problem. See: the current turd in the white house and his followers.

    But with our current political culture being what it is, that’s not a verity of life that I would really go out of my way to defend. People need to be thoughtful and kind, too.