Here’s my unbiased, scholarly opinion of criticism: it’s bullpoop.
What gives anyone the right to criticize you? Criticism implies that they know better than you. Here’s what they’re really saying to you when they criticize you:
This is how you should do it. I’m right. My way is right. You’re wrong. You’re not doing it right. You’re mistaken. You should be doing it, feeling it, thinking it, saying it differently than you did and I’m going to tell you how you should do it better.
For example, you should: fry an egg like this, stop eating eggs, look at life this way, take better care of yourself, stop worrying about yourself so much, stop eating animals, carbs, fat, sugar, lighten up, be more serious, work more, work less, spend more time with the family, be more ambitious.
I think you get the idea. Everyone has an opinion about how to live and everyone’s opinion is different.
And don’t let them tell you that they’re only making a suggestion when they’re really criticizing you. The difference between criticism and a suggestion is the difference between “You should” and “You could”. (And the difference between “Who asked you?” and “I’d like your feedback.”)
Do you know what the smoking gun is that’s proof that you have been criticized? When they say, “You should…”
Even if it’s only implied in what they said. “Should” is “used to indicate … obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions” (Oxford Dictionary – italics mine).
The only people who have the right to criticize you in any way are the people you report to at work. It’s considered to be part and parcel of the job that they get to evaluate your work. But any smart, emotionally intelligent person in a position of power (including parents) knows that criticism makes people defensive and shuts them down.
Why? Because criticism shames people. It leaves them feeling that they’re wrong, stupid or not good enough.
And then we shame them again by saying, “You can’t take criticism.” If we want deeper connections with other people we have to stop judging them. What makes us the authority on how others should live their lives?
There are more compelling ways to get people to cooperate with your agenda when you’re in a position of authority. As my Mother used to say, “You get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar…”
Of course we never have to take other people’s opinions or criticisms personally. Remember that criticism is just their perspective. Their take on how you should live in the world.
On the eve of her seventh birthday, my six-year-old great-niece, Franny, was unhappy. When I asked her what was wrong, she said that her sister, Lily, told her that she wasn’t ready to be seven yet. (Where do kids get this stuff from?) I told Franny that she didn’t have to listen to what her sister said and asked her “Who said that Lily is right?” She stopped and thought for a moment. Then I saw a light go on in her eyes, her face brightened and she went back to being excited about her birthday.
The next time someone criticizes you, instead of getting defensive or angry, what about telling them, “Well, isn’t that an interesting perspective?” And remember that that’s all it is. Their perspective.
Happy Thanksgiving to my friends and loyal readers in the U.S.
With warmest regards,