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Criticism: The Fine Art of Giving and Receiving

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I recently wrote a blog post on why kids need to go outside and not waste so much of their time in front of screens. In my mind, I was writing out my concerns over children needing to connect more with nature and with their bodies. Lots of people liked it, but some people tore it apart left, right and center! To some people, I was writing a piece that was attacking their life style and their way of thinking. I was told I was being judgmental, closed minded, rude and even antagonistic! I was shocked because that was totally not the original intention of my post at all! Looking back, I probably could have written my article differently and then I shared it with the wrong group of people. Oops, my bad!

My initial reaction went like this:

First, I got defensive.

Then, my mind started racing.

Were my words really that horrible?

Were these people heartless bastards?

Did I say something that was lacking awareness?

Did I do something wrong????

Can I say anything to make it better?

Silly me! I know some things about criticism already, so luckily, I was able remember these beautiful little nuggets of knowledge before I was eaten alive by the comments.

On Receiving Criticism

Is the Criticism Sincere? 

Sometimes criticism is necessary, but when do you know to take it seriously?

If the criticism is delivered in such a way that is aimed to help you improve yourself or to help you understand your mistakes, then take the pinch and learn from the criticism that someone offers. If the criticism is offered from a person who truly cares about you and wants to see you blossom, then it’s sincere and you probably want to listen. But, sometimes your enemies will criticize you and their criticism can be of value too! Just notice how your mind  reals and squirms when they do it. It’s not a pleasant feeling. This criticism is the worse because it makes you angry and you can start getting very defensive. (If people are criticizing you on a innate quality, like your looks, your hair, etc. Then, they are just stupid, ignore them). But, even behind rude criticism there is a valuable lesson to be learned.

It’s also important to remember how the mind naturally clings to negativity. I had lots of people like and share my blog post, but only a fraction of them hated it. Of course, my mind got stuck on the negative comments!

When People Insult and Blame You
In the more spiritual world, I’ve heard that if you just sit and let someone blame and wag their finger at you, without trying to justify yourself, then you are freeing yourself from the karma of your mistake (something like that). When I first heard this years ago, I thought, “NO, NEVER!!!! I COULD NEVER DO THAT!!!! I could never just sit back and let someone criticize me!” But, that’s exactly what I did over the past few days It’s not to just be a pushover, but rather to observe the situation and your feelings. It is a very humbling process to try, even though I thought I could never have stomached it! When I started getting negative comments about my article, I first tried to say something to justify myself… that only made it worse and the accusations kept flying. So, then, I apologized and said I was sorry for being misunderstood… Still… the people kept attacking. At that point, I decided that something I did must have really pissed some people off, I must have made a mistake, so I didn’t say anything else. Just let them continue with their verbal (albeit virtual) abuse.

I didn’t do anything for about 36 hours. I let the comments accumulate. I read them every few hours without responding or trying to defend myself. I just listened to what people were saying and observed the pit in my stomach grow. I observed how my mind kept getting pulled into negativity and how I kept going over how I would explain myself to these people who were tearing me a new arsehole.

And then, the most amazing thing happened inside of me once I accepted their criticism without fighting back. I went through a bit of a journey within and observed all of these unpleasant feelings. First was denial. Then, was defending myself. Then was the pinch. Then was acceptance of my mistake. Then, the only thing left after that was love and freedom.

When you make a mistake, you feel the pinch. It’s only natural to keep that pinch to remind you not to make the same mistake again! The tricky part is to keep the pinch without having the guilt. Mistakes are part of life, however, living with guilt is not. Remember the pinch, drop the guilt.

On Giving Criticism

I’ve heard Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, of the Art of Living Foundation speak on criticism and one of the most profound things I’ve heard him say is something like,

“Criticism should come from the mouth, not from the heart.”

When offering criticism, if I’m doing it with awareness, I ask myself:

  • Am I speaking with compassion?
  • Am I offering a solution?
  • Am I offering support?
  • Am I coming from a space of love and understanding?

Imagine if you were the person receiving the criticism. How you would you like to hear it? We can’t assume that everyone has the skills to handle harsh criticism. If someone makes a mistake, see it as just a mistake. You know yourself that when you make a mistake, it was only an accident. The same applies to other people. Nobody purposely makes a mistake, it’s only through lack of awareness or misunderstanding that somebody makes a mistake.

The internet is the worst place for giving and receiving criticism because there is no ‘tone of voice‘ button on your keyboard. So, when giving and receiving criticism on the internet, be especially aware of the lack of personal touch.

Criticism Sandwich
Start with something positive. Insert criticism. End on a positive. A lot of schools and corporations use this method for giving feedback and for good reason. If you use a criticism sandwich, you’re reminded to keep the criticism focused on a solution, rather than just blame and anger. Of course, you don’t need to sugar coat your criticism, but doing it with awareness can help the other person go through the process more easily.

Embrace the criticism
It doesn’t do any good to run away from criticism, but it does help to know a little about it. It helps to know about the tendency of the mind and how we cling to negativity and how we want to avoid feeling that ‘pinch‘ when we’ve made a mistake. If you find yourself really in the grips of feeling low over being criticized, it’s good! Stew over it a while… but if continues, do something to pick up your energy. Spend some time in nature (haha, the people who didn’t like my blog post wouldn’t like that, they can go play video games), do some yoga, laugh and just know that the whole thing is just a passing storm in the mind.



One Response »

  1. I love your open self enquiry Kate and your life observations.


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