On criticism

We’re all going to be criticized at some point in our lives. How do you handle it? Image found on Forbes.

Criticism is one of those things that comes with being part of the human race. The way we respond can define who we are.

There are the people who calmly take criticism, parsing it to see what they might learn, and those who don’t even listen. Then there are the others.

She ain’t talkin’ about me! I’m not mad, dammit! Image found on CBS News.

They’re the ones, red-faced and sputtering, who are absolutely indignant that anyone dare challenge them. They might call their detractors every name in the book, and several not in there, while reeling off a list of reasons they, and not their critics, are correct, though quite often with few or cherry-picked/manipulated facts. They can come from any walk of life, but are especially problematic if they happen to land in politics or the media (or both, God forbid). And good Lord, can they whine.

We’re all at least a little thin-skinned at times; it can hurt when someone tells us we’re wrong. Still, it doesn’t mean that the appropriate way to react is with anger and/or insults, no matter how defensive we may feel.

Katie Heaney wrote in The Cut in New York magazine in June 2019: “Receiving criticism is unpleasant, and it’s almost humanly impossible not to respond with anger when we do, which is something I learned from this amazing book I read recently, which I am not nearly done raving about.

It’s like the editor expects me to contribute instead of just complain! Not fair! GIF found on SpeakGif.

“In this book—“Why Won’t You Apologize?”—the author, psychologist Harriet Lerner, approaches conflict from all angles, and one of those is from the side receiving criticism. This is something almost nobody is good at, Lerner writes, which I find reassuring. It’s also an unavoidable part of life. ‘The only way to avoid criticism is to sit mute in a corner and take no risks,’ says Lerner. ‘If you live courageously, you’ll experience a lot of criticism.’

“This is not to say that every action that garners criticism is ‘brave,’” Heaney writes. “If you live stupidly, you will also experience a lot of criticism for that.”

That can include doing just about anything in the public realm, like, say … I dunno … encouraging people to commit insurrection because you lost an election, crying that you’re being persecuted by having to follow the same rules as everyone else, or forgetting that you once said something kind of stupid (people always remember the stupid things, trust me, especially if you’re someone whose words are written/shared in the media).

Richard “Bigo” Barnett of Gravette was one of the people caught up in that attempted insurrection. Here he is with his feet up on Nancy Pelosi’s desk. Image found on 5 News Online.

Though it’s a normal impulse, Lerner says, “Defensiveness blocks us from seeing ourselves objectively. So it’s normal, and universal, but it’s the arch-enemy in success in family, friendship, and work.”

When the criticism is unjustified, it’s fair to get angry, but we should be sure that the criticism has no leg to stand on before reacting, especially if we tend to last out. Lerner says that in listening defensively, we zero in on those parts of the critique with which we don’t agree rather than heeding the whole thing. Though there may be exaggerations and inaccuracies, Lerner says, that doesn’t mean there’s not a kernel of truth.

For example, former orthodox priest Father Nathan Monk has been a target for trolls for quite a while, and often claps back at them in comments on his Facebook posts. He admits he can be a little thin-skinned at times, but as someone who grew up with learning disabilities and a sometimes unstable home life, it’s to be expected.

A common thread among many of Monk’s trolls is disgust that he still uses “Father” even though he’s no longer a priest. My understanding is that ex-priests are still priests, just no longer practicing. Screenshot from Facebook.

This past weekend, he wrote, “My trolls love to say, ‘you don’t accept criticism. You just think you are always right.’ [I] always find this amusing in light of the fact that I literally quit my job over the fact that I listened to criticism and believed I was wrong. That all being right and true, a troll said something today that I think was a fair criticism. Now, I’ll caveat that by saying it was surrounded by a bunch of nonsense, but there was a tiny sliver of truth.”

That criticism was that he had, in promoting his latest novel, not said much about the plot or the characters, which was true. He had talked a bit about it when it was first released, but the focus lately had been on criticism of his recording of his own audiobook, which he considered a bit of a personal victory considering his past reading issues.

You should listen to criticism; there might actually be information in it that could help you. Image found on Pick the Brain.

In this atmosphere where everyone is offended by everything, the fact that anyone can admit that a bit of criticism is fair is stunning to me. I applaud Monk not only for that, but his consistent pushback against those whose apparent entire existence is predicated on making others miserable while mostly remaining anonymous (can you tell I’m not a fan of trolls?). One can be defensive and still not be whiny (really, it’s possible), especially when defending not only oneself but others with the same problems. I have the tendency to fight harder to defend others than I do myself, and I see a bit of myself in Monk.

That and his weird sense of humor. Folks like us tend to stick together.

Plus, I’m still on a little bit of a high from having introduced him to the knowledge of Flippin, Ark., home of my favorite church sign.

I never expected him to respond when I made my comment, but it resulted in much hilarity for a few days. Screenshot from Facebook.


Not all criticism is bad, even if it sounds bad. Be willing to learn from your mistakes. Image found on Mobile Cuisine.

When I was in school, I’d often be told I’d need to develop a thick skin, especially if I was going to work in the media. As is often said over in our corner of the newsroom, we learn the most from our critics (that would be those who give constructive criticism, something intended to better someone, rather than just insult them). I know that I have throughout my life (heck, in college recitals, we all filled out critiques on our fellow students, and the ones that pointed out ways I could improve usually meant more to me that all the “great job” comments). However, I know of more than a few in the media and elsewhere who apparently never got that memo.

I care about what people think, but I also have to stay true to who I am, which won’t please those who think I should be a political animal, eschew word-nerdiness and become far more strict in policing grammar. That’s not me, and I don’t think anyone really wants that. (I know I don’t … politics all the time? Ugh.)

Lerner suggests a metaphor for dealing with criticism that both Heaney and I love: “I picture every person as standing on a platform of self-worth. If it’s a big, strong platform, then we will handle criticism very well, because we can look out and view our mistakes and our worst behaviors as part of a much larger picture of who we are as human beings.”

Learning from mistakes and growing does seem like the human thing to do. At the very least, it’s the adult thing to do.

Being petty and whiny? What are you, 3?

That’s an impressive tantrum, kid, but the answer’s still no. GIF found on giphy.

6 thoughts on “On criticism

  1. I self-published a book of historical fiction in ebook format a year or so ago. I can honestly say I have not received a word of criticism, and it has already sold 5 copies (if you count my son and me).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “If you live stupidly, you will receive a lot of criticism for that.” I am sorely tempted to mention a few names but I am going to resist temptation this time.

    Liked by 1 person

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