The Art of Reviling: 10 Tips for Criticizing People More Effectively

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In the 1930s, William B. Pettus, the president of the College of Chinese Studies in Beijing, came across a strange little Chinese essay. It began by arguing that, "having a desire to revile, should you persistently restrain it you will sooner or later develop some malady or infirmity. Therefore, having this desire, it is right to give it vent, and there is no harm in so doing."

However, the essay continued, most people lacked the skill that great reviling required. What followed was a list of tips and techniques for becoming a master reviler, "one who enjoys reviling and meets with no rebuff."

When Pettus published his translation of this book, The Art of Reviling, he did not know who the original author was. It was later revealed to be Liang Shiqiu, the scholar now known for being the first to translate the entire works of Shakespeare into Chinese. Liang also wrote light satirical sketches of Chinese life, of which this is clearly an example, but knowing it is satire makes it no less true or useful—especially in the era of internet comment sections, where mastery of the art of reviling is more important than ever. Here are the 10 keys to becoming a master reviler.

1. You must know yourself and know your man.

"If another person has shortcomings, and you yourself are guilty of the same, in reviling him it is well to avoid mention of these."

2. Do not revile those who are your inferiors.

"You should select a person at least slightly superior to yourself…as soon as he replies…this brings you on a parity with him, as one pays no heed to inferiors…If, on the contrary, you revile a person of no reputation, the more you revile, the more pleased he is. The rule is that by reviling a man of no reputation you create one for him. Is this not a distressing sequence?"

3. In reviling, enough is enough and there one should stop.

"When you are reviling a man of standing and he has replied, this is the place to stop. Should you continue you cannot carry the bystanders with you."

4. Use the method of indirect attack.

"The more severely you wish to revile one, the more important is it to begin with expressions of pity & appreciation & even of respect and regret…the listeners feel that you are only speaking the truth and regard you as a person of poise & dignity."

5. Preserve a placid exterior.

"In ordinary street reviling the crowd regards the one whose voice is the louder and demeanor the fiercer as being in the right. But one who can truly revile is able to conceal his weapon until his antagonist's is wearied…when all energy is expended, he can retort in a few words, every one of which will draw blood."

6. In reviling use chaste and elegant language.

"Prevent your antagonist from perceiving, at first, that he is being reviled…the more polite your expressions the sharper will be the sting. It is a good rule in reviling to incorporate in your retorts favorite expressions of your antagonist."

7. Conquer by retreating.

"When about to revile and you remember that you yourself have shortcomings, it is wise at the start boldly to acknowledge these in a thorough manner…You must bring yourself down to the humblest position. This prevents your opponent's bringing you down to a lower level."

8. Lay a trap for your adversary.

"One experienced in reviling carefully notes his antagonist's every expression for those which can be returned with telling effect…by dropping an insignificant expression he will grasp at it and shoot his arrow…show him that it has lodged in a sandbank and that no injury results."

9. Make much of little.

"If a person deserves reviling, but the offense is of minor significance & scarcely worthy of reprimand…lead him into deeper water. Point by point use correct logic and endeavor to lead him to make illogical statements…When this is accomplished you can turn & severely revile him."

10. Make war on that which is near and cultivate friendship for that which is remote.

"At one time revile only one person, or, if need be, only one class of men, or you will have too many adversaries. Attack your opponent, but do not involve the listener. If it is absolutely necessary to include a large number of persons, under these circumstances you should declare that in so doing you have the interest of all at heart. If you fail in this you will have an avalanche of reviling descend upon you which will be troublesome to withstand."

Now go forth and revile well, my friends.

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January 31, 2013 - 11:56am
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