Critical imaginations

On rejections.


Who is comfortable with rejections? Most people are not I suspect. I might be reading to much into my own frustration with rejections, although the 61 million hits on ‘rejection’ resulting from a quick and dirty google search seem to hint in another direction.

NO! We do not like to be rejected. And that is why a good amount of money can be made on “soothing the sting of rejection; “how to lessen the pain”; “how to heal from rejections”.

Psychiatrists (i.e. a psychologist authorized to prescribe medication) psycho-analysists and social- and bio-psychologists stumble over each-other to explain why rejection hurts in order to than tell us therapeutically how to overcome it. Rejection as the problem of the rejected, not as the fault of the one who rejects. Curious isn’t it?

The number of times that one is rejected must equal the number of times that one rejects.

But we do not zoom in on those of us who have made it their business to reject others: assessors, peer reviewers, quality controllers, line managers, lovers and all the others who are in a position to reject. Of course, we do not reject people…it is not personal. We merely reject proposals, ideas, applications, drafts, suggestions, and misguided affection. We are happy to dehumanize the products of our brains.  The question is not why we dislike being rejected be others, but why we like to reject the other.

The psyche of peer-reviewers might shed some light on that question. Assuming that they equally dislike being rejected, what triggers their motivation to reject others? Are we all suffering from a pseudo Oedipus complex in that we must all reject something to become accepted for something else.  The Stanford prison experiment? Or a perverted version of Luke 6:31 “Do to others what you don’t want them to do to you? I was surprised to learn recently that a request – I was about to make – would be rejected the first time.  “All requests are rejected the first time”, was probably an effort to sooth the pain Avant le Rejet. Didn’t work! It merely triggered the ultimate academic question….WHY?

Answer: because rejecting all proposals and submissions in first instance, gives the whole procedure an aura of “robustness” and “rigor”. Look at us being thorough and objective. Rejected proposals do not automatically get better, other mistakes may creep in after revision. Other reviewers may have different understandings of ‘rigor’.

The problem is that if you want to get accepted instead of being rejected, you have to play the game, answer the rhetorical questions, prepare for being rejected again and perhaps again and again. If we are capable of doing that, i.e. accepting [sic] the game of rejection and acceptance, we could easily increase the pool of reviewers, call for more papers and bids and create robust appeal procedures for rejected applications.

But if we are willing to reject that development and all peer-reviewers with it, we might stand a change of going back to what counts ……. The quality of a “hundred flowers that blossom”… unless of course you reject Mao’s metaphor -for whatever reason- all together.