The first paper I submitted to a peer reviewed journal was not a fun experience. Reviewer one gave me two sentences of support. Reviewer two gave me seven pages detailing nearly 40 reasons why what I was saying was terrible. My heart began racing as soon as I opened the document. The fury began to rise when I saw the first point raised by the reviewer showed they clearly had no idea what they were talking about. It got worse as I went on.
I was infuriated. And I was confused. How could one reviewer think it was fine as it was, and another rip it to absolute shreds? How was I supposed to reconcile this?
My immediate reaction was to give up on it because the system clearly sucked. Why was it my job to educate the reviewer on the concepts that underpinned the paper? Shouldn’t they at least be expected to do some background reading before they comment so negatively? While the answer should be yes, the reality was that they hadn’t. I couldn’t do anything to change that.
The choice I was left with was whether I was going to take the time to help them understand my point of view or not. Ranting about the system seemed a lot easier than taking the time to address the litany of points raised by reviewer two, but it alone wouldn’t do anything to get me closer to my goal.
I still ranted about the system (I believe I still am now), but I also took a good hard look at what I had written and how effective it was at conveying what I wanted to say to the reader. Because at the end of the day, writing a journal article is first and foremost about connecting with the reader. If you don’t do that, it’s not worth much.
I’m still learning how to apply this lesson more regularly in other parts of my life. Some situations are easier than others. I can’t say I always do it with conversations with my father, that’s for sure! But I’m consciously putting in effort to trying to get better at it. And it’s making me hyper-sensitive to the many public examples of when it doesn’t happen. The countless examples of people favouring polarised argument over constructive discourse.
One of the examples that seems to be very current relates to the whole anti-vax movement. Personally, I think the very use term ‘anti-vaxxer’ completely undermines any possibility of engaging in a constructive conversation to address issues of concern. If we’re aiming to further marginalise them so they consolidate their efforts, then I think we’re doing a fine job. If we actually want to improve uptake of vaccinations and avoid pushing those with concerns and hesitancy into the fold of the dogmatic extreme then I think we’re failing miserably.
And of course the other current and complex example relates to racism. This is an emotional issue for everyone in different ways and it’s extremely difficult to know how to navigate it as a Caucasian. I imagine it’s beyond exhausting for people of colour to educate others, some of who use their wilful ignorance as an excuse for abhorrent behaviour. And I think they’re right, each of us should take a more active role in educating ourselves and our peers and stop being so complacent. In my mind, it’s about wanting to build a fair and just society and making a contribution to making that change happen.
Each of these scenarios are very different, but they all have something in common. If the goal is to create some sort of change that depends on input of others, we need to make the effort to tailor our message and deliver it in a way that enables them to hear us . The more we despise or disagree with them, the truer this becomes. Afterall, this isn’t about winning an argument, it’s about creating change.