Today's post came about as a result of listening to a member of our community- a very successful, highly accomplished aquarist who has done some amazing stuff-having shared his aquarium on an online forum and gotten roundly thrashed by a couple of armchair critics for no apparent reason.
He was dumbfounded.
Fortunately, he had a thick enough skin to simply dismiss it, and continued to share his work and results, which , in the end, silenced the critic and his "allies"...but he was alarmed at the ferocity of the attack levied upon him and his idea.
At some point, at some time, and in some place, you're going to get some criticism for what you're doing in the hobby. Perhaps it's a product of the relative anonymity or comfort that social media provides. Avatars and screen names can make very weak people into bullies. They can also make some people strong enough to become great friends and mentors. Yet, you do see a fair amount of critiques levied by seemingly anonymous people out there online. Often times, it's from a person who doesn't even know you, who sees you trying something they feel is unwise, ill-advised, or even dangerous with your fishes.
I suppose that's a good thing. It's nice that we have a sort of support system to help guide us on our aquatic journeys.
Usually, criticisms are offered in the spirit of friendship and support, perhaps with the hope that you won't repeat a painful (or costly) mistake that the critic made themselves. These are useful, and you should, at the very least, pay attention to what is being preferred, evaluate the criticism against the context of what you're doing, and make your next move based on your quick analysis.
Yet, there are darker ones...Yes.
Other criticisms are of a slightly different, often less "friendly" nature. They come from a place of...well...fear. A place of anger. A place of ego. You know the kind I'm talking about. The kind of flat-out dismissive, judgmental, almost "boilerplate" types of criticisms. Especially when you're trying something new, or executing an idea which has not been done much before, if at all, in the manner in which you're attempting.
And often, they're very biting:
"You can't do that."
"It's not done that way."
"Your tank will crash."
"Your a fool."
Stuff like that.
Again, your first move is not to flip the guy/gal the middle finger and go at it. Obviously, this person is opinionated. Is it because they've done what you did before and had a bad experience? Is it because they wish they had thought of the idea? Is it because they have an expertise in a small area related to what you're doing and want to prove what they know by lashing out?
Sometimes I've found, in my four decades in the hobby, that the most dismissive, arrogant critics are often those who have not done what you are doing. They "know" not from firsthand experience, but because they've "heard" or read that this is contrary to what everyone who has been successful in the past is doing. They're those who, for whatever reason, feel it necessary to discourage, degrade, and otherwise thwart your attempts to do something perhaps a bit outside of their comfort zone...these self-appointed "guardians of aquarium practice."
So they attack.
They fall back on "the books." Or maybe some related information they found online.
Remember, if you're doing something new or in a different way, there is typically not much out there on it to "support" your position. It's often up to you to weather the attacks and explain how you did what you did, and why it works. Or own up to the failure when it doesn't work, as the case may be. Regardless, there is often little more but your own experience to fall back on, until you fin other outliers who have had similar successes with what you're doing.
I can tell you first hand, when we first started talking about the use of botanicals and playing with blackwater aquariums, we received a lot of response- both supportive and dismissive. A Lot of hobbyists thought that adding botanical materials to your aquarium in quantity was a recipe for a "tank crash." They felt that what we were proffering was reckless and ill-thought-out. I hear a lot of backlash about "pH plummeting into the abyss", "ammonia spikes", and other horrible fates that awaited me as I continued further down the road.
And guess what? None of them happened. Oh sure, I had some things work better this others. I lost fishes here and there- for various reasons. But I developed a set of practices, protocols, procedures- to assure myself the greatest likelihood of success. To prevent the "prophesized" disasters from happening. And when I would encounter a setback, I researched and consulted and asked the tough questions to figure out what I did wrong, then I corrected my procedures and moved forward. I took the time to write down and share everything I learned with my fellow hobbyists. Shared everything that I've learned and thought about- still do- in this blog and elsewhere.
I'm not that unique. Not some shining example. However, I am just an average guy with an above average interest in a rather arcane subject within the aquarium hobby, and I pushed to learn as much as I can about it. Lots of you do the same...have for decades.
Many of you were dabbling with some of this stuff yourselves, and we were able to trade "war stories", share ideas, discuss our successes and failures. We collaborated. We took an idea which was typically dismissed or seen as some sort of "side show" and looked at it more seriously, more procedurally...And we are seeing the emergence of blackwater, botanical-style aquarium as a legitimate methodology to successfully keep and breed a wide variety of fishes. We learn new stuff every day- together.
This is the way you push out into the unknown and weather the unwarranted "criticisms" or plain old attacks. You DO. You focus. You find others who have similar interests and share ideas. You collaborate. And most of all, you share. Without fear. Without judgement. And without expectation of anything, other than perhaps inspiring others to follow the path you've taken if they desire, and to expand and improve upon it.
It's hard to take criticism. Especially when it' for something you hold near and dear, and work with daily. However, in the aquarium world, like in so many other places- it comes with the territory.
For those of you pushing out into new territories- new frontiers:
Move forward. Bravely.
Take comfort in the fact that you are trying. Take comfort i the fact that your work may inspire others...and in it's own little way, perhaps change the aquarium hobby.
You're no fool.
Stay bold. Stay dedicated. Stay tenacious. Stay thick skinned.
And Stay Wet.