The striking part in an otherwise ho-hum profile of David Brooks in New York magazine:
Whereas Bobos drew accolades, the response to his 2004 follow-up, On Paradise Drive, and the articles that inspired it, was mixed. Negative reviews gave way to critiques of “Brooksianism” itself….
Brooks took the backlash hard. The day Slate ran a takedown, Brooks was on a book tour. “I read it and then went out to perform before 3,000 people and thought, I suck,” Brooks remembers.
I've read similar stories of A-list Hollywood celebrities reading reviews about their movies and taking criticism very hard. I know Truman and Clinton were two presidents consumed by their critics. No matter how successful or famous or self-confident, negative criticism hurts.
It especially hurts when you are an artist producing work individually. If someone criticizes the company you work for, or a project you worked on with others, the impact is diffused. If someone criticizes an essay you wrote, one that has solely your byline at the top in big bold letters — it hurts. Here's one writer's reflection on reading negative reviews. I venture that many wannabe artists never produce because they fear exposing themselves to criticism that will inevitably be felt personally.
Reflecting on the negative feedback that I've received over the years — of the 1.1 million words I've published, there's more than enough crap to arm the haters of the world — I believe that the process has made me more civil and empathetic when I criticize other people's work. I have some sense of what's going through the other person's head; I feel like I get what Brooks is saying. Despite the stereotype of the blogosphere as a place where civility sits at the lowest order, it's not like this in most corners, and for me anyway, the exercise of writing stuff in public, engaging with critics, etc. has made more thoughtful my argumentative style, online and off, without dulling any of the actual arguments.
Maybe this is the ideal manifestation of empathy: invisible yet effectual.