You can learn to ride a bike in an empty parking lot or quiet street, but almost none of us learn how to ice skate in private. If you want to learn to ice skate you have to be willing to go to a rink crowded with people who know more than you do and fall down in front of them. (And get back up in front of them – sometimes even less graceful than the fall.) It can hurt, of course, but if you ever see a person fall a few times and give up, a bruised ego is more likely to blame than a sore backside.
But here’s the thing: Everybody on ice skates is engaged in our own negotiations with gravity. We might see you fall, but people fall on ice all the time. It would be a rare bully who would boo you off the ice while you’re trying to learn.
We’re not so understanding online. Platforms like Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram encourage us to live more publicly, but we don’t give each other much room to learn publicly. When you agree to an interview, share a performance, or publish an opinion, you know there will be trolls there to attack you for daring to show up. If our online culture were to spread to our skating rinks, there would be an arena full of idiots making fun of everyone on the ice.
The solution for too many of us is to hide. To insist on learning only in private – never make a mistake that can be seen by anybody else. To stay small. You might choose the opposite course and get big and loud and combative – to become the expert and then beat the critics at their own game by shaming them for contesting you.
Our world would be better if we all agree instead to learn in public and to leave space for others to learn in public. Courtney Martin describes the goal as being willing to speak up and stand out – don’t let your ego get “bruised into silence” – and then daring to hear and learn from your critics.