What If Your Life Was Yelped?

What If Your Life Was Yelped?
Illustrations by Claire Lesar
It was 1965 and Bob Dylan had just betrayed his generation with an electric guitar. At least, that’s how the “Myth of Newport” goes. One of the most prolific and celebrated songwriters of the twentieth century had people booing—long, loud boos. The reviews were in: Dylan was Judas. One star.

Do you know who leaves one-star reviews?

People who are miserable.

Now, they could be people who feel miserable—or they are just insufferable people. Either way, they don't have the decency to stay home and be content to keep their misery all to themselves. Oh no, they have to drive into the city and visit the new tapas bar. And by the end of the evening, they feel compelled to let the world know their unfiltered and unsolicited opinion. They come in with their unreasonable expectations, they make their unjust assessments, and they vote with their single star.

What if someone reviewed you? Not your work or your business—you. Just your life reviewed the way people use Yelp.

Think of it: your former dating partners, childhood friends, old roommates, or your parents. What do you think they would say? Would you leave a follow-up comment disputing their claims? Would you thank them for their feedback and request direct messaging? How many stars would they leave for your life?

Robert Frost said, “Thinking isn’t agreeing or disagreeing. That’s voting.” Yelp and other crowd-sourced review formats reinforce the notion that more than people being “thinking-things,” we are to be “voting-things.” Thinking has the freedom to change, to progress and to regress. Voting means making the definitive choice, no take-backs. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of times in life in which we need to vote, but what if we are spending too much of our time voting on the wrong things?

Here's a fun exercise: The next time you see a one-star review on Yelp, click the person's profile and see what other reviews they have offered society. You'll almost certainly find the profile of a serial one-star reviewer.

Why does this happen?

We have a culture that believes one’s personal opinions are not merely valid, they are necessary. I know we can’t entirely blame the flurry of reality TV competition shows like American Idol, X Factor, America’s Got Talent, and Dancing with the Stars, but they certainly haven’t helped. They feed the myth that the world needs to hear my votes on a slate of non-issue issues. Far too often, in my own life, my impulse to vote overrides the necessity of thinking.

What is striking about the rise of the tyranny of the vote is the simultaneous, and perhaps even correlated, distancing from caring about what other people think. Today, our opinions are more solicited than ever, and at the same time, our opinions are devalued by a culture that says, “You do you.”

There must be a different way—a better way—to experience and examine the world around us. Isn’t there a way to acknowledge the validity of our thinking, to determine the meaningful occasions for our voting, and to curb the impulse to export our every opinion to the people around us?

I believe this way of the experienced and examined life can come about if we slow down enough to consider whether we would want our own lives reviewed and voted on based on the criteria we so often impose on others. Living meaningfully amidst the tension of thinking and voting requires a humility that soberly examines oneself and then extends the same compassion we desire from others. In other words, you have to learn to Yelp unto others as you would have them Yelp unto you.

A few months after his infamous performance at Newport, Dylan gave a rare press conference in San Francisco. For 45 minutes, he was the embodiment of elusive cool. But when asked about the booing, he listed every city on his recent tour where he had not been booed. Dylan  wasn't keeping a record of wrongs, but he  was certainly paying attention. He offered this whimsical yet insightful comeback: “I mean, they must be pretty rich, to be able to go someplace and boo. I couldn't afford it if I was in their shoes.”

May the one-star review be a luxury you’re never rich enough to afford.


"Greg has really lost all the charm and fun he used to have. I can remember 20 years ago enjoying summer afternoons with him, mostly making forts or riding bicycles. Maybe it's the new management or his job and a family, but things have been very downhill. Thanksgiving and Christmas are two busier times, and Greg doesn't take reservations. Be sure to wear a jacket."

- Greg's Childhood Friend, ★☆☆☆☆


"I went to Lisa's apartment on a Tuesday night. It wasn't too crowded, just Lisa and me. I waited for 10 minutes for someone to take my drink order. No straw, no ice, tasted like tap water. I could barely hear over the house music. She kept saying, "at the end of the day," which was just terrible. Overall it was fine, be sure to wear a jacket."

- Dan S., ★★☆☆☆


"Things started off fine, but I can't recommend entirely. Stan was a good baby, ate and slept well. Childhood was okay. But the teen years were just, 'meh.' Not the worst kid I've raised, but certainly not the best. Be sure to wear a jacket."

- Mom, ★★★☆☆☆