Criticising Subud Authors

by Sahlan Diver

The SubudVision web site invites Subud members to submit articles for publication. Suppose you submit an article for publication. What can you expect in the initial feedback from the editors? It's a matter of simple mathematics. Each article gets three editors assigned to it. Suppose each editor makes a lot of comments. Multiply that by three and you have quite a LOT of comments. Would you find that intimidating? We hope not. In fact, if an editor likes an article, they will probably demonstrate their enthusiasm by having a lot to say about it, so a lot of comment can be a very good sign.

Who are the editors? You can answer that question by choosing the link to the Editors page from the menu on the home page, and reading the editor mini-biographies. Some of them have previous experience as editors. Most are academically very well qualified. This could easily lead to a wrong idea arising. Suppose your article is sent back to you with a criticism that you take exception to. It might be tempting to say, "Well, this guy thinks he's very clever, but my understanding is much better than his". Your understanding is not in dispute. Just because someone is academically qualified, it doesn't mean that his or her understanding is better than yours. In the realm of the kejiwaan it most certainly does not. But what an academic training does qualify someone to do is to be very good at "criticism".



The reader must allow me to digress briefly on the subject of "criticism", because this is widely misunderstood in Subud. For years we have suffered the same old regurgitated nonsense in Subud publications and reports, namely "only positive criticism is acceptable".

"Only positive criticism", in a Subud context, is a euphemism for "mainly agreeing with the speaker, or at the most slightly disagreeing, but never strongly or ardently disagreeing because that would cause offence and destroy harmony." On the back of this wonderful line of reasoning, Subud will (and does) follow the suggestion of any idiot, wherever it leads, even if the end result is harmful, all for the sake of not offending the idiot.

No! Criticism, in the sense of "making a critique", is a very good thing. It is a process that should be gone through in order to arrive at the truth of a situation and to find the most beneficial course of action. Unfortunately if one is critical in Subud, people are very quick to conclude that you are against them, that you are trying to do them down. In fact, it is not only in Subud that the nature of criticism is misunderstood. How often do you hear someone who makes a critical remark being put down as a "cynic", when the correct description should have been a "sceptic"? If you don't know the difference, look it up in a dictionary. There is a well-known phrase: "Murphy's law". Murphy is an Irish name. I am not Irish, but I live in Ireland, so I am going to stretch the point and formulate "Sahlan's New Rules"

Sahlan's new rule no 1: "All criticism is welcome in Subud, especially negative criticism".

Digression over. Back to the critical function of the editors. Authors should think of editors as trial readers. If an editor finds a part of your article weak, then, when your article is published, the readers are also likely to find it weak, so wouldn't it be better to take note of what the editor says and rewrite or extend that part of the argument to make it more convincing? The editor is on your side! If we have any criticisms, it is not because we are asking you to change what you want to say, we just want you to say it better.

At this point I can feel authors going hot under the collar and saying "I am quite capable of dealing with any adverse comments from the readers". That may be so, but in practise it works like this: Suppose SubudVision publishes your article without any editing. Consequently, it has some points well made and other points flawed. The most likely effect on the reader is to make them pass on to the next article. Readers won't want to waste time on an article that is all over the place. Your piece is likely to be ignored in favour of better-worked articles. We are sure you don't want that!

Even the smallest changes can make all the difference between an effective article and an ignored article. If you don't believe me, try this test, which is a variation on a test suggested to me by fellow editor, David Week: Take any well-known and influential historical document, such as, for example, The American Constitution. Alter some sentences to make them sound muddled, rewrite some statements so that they contradict each other, maybe throw in some spelling mistakes and grammatical errors as well. You will find that the document very quickly loses its effectiveness and power.

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