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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Are You Critical?

"Do what you feel in your heart to be right-- for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't." Eleanor Roosevelt
How do you feel about the interpretation of this quote? Lately, I view the reality of the words with new interest.
Maybe I'm having slight misconceptions, but I think many Americans have become "permanently critical." I see this in respect to the media, politics, religion, and even personal relationships. I believe that much of this attitude is based on a lack of tolerance in respect to patience. If these people do not rush to criticize, they feel as if they are not in vogue. Now, so much information about scandal, graft, and other negative behavior is being aired that all journalism seems "yellow." Today, it seems that the general attitude of many people suffers from this jaundiced condition. Being overly critical seems to be in fashion.
True, some of the prevalent criticism stems from our human condition. Taught the value of speaking out about perceived misconduct and injustice, human beings naturally practice this behavior of judgment and criticism. This seems perfectly natural and often beneficial to all. But, when rank criticism becomes so inherent in every subject that it serves as a constant defense mechanism, its transformation assumes wicked, negative characteristics. The people who practice overcritical behavior may learn that doing so feels good because they love to see other people fear them.
Perry Noble (August 1, 2007 perrynoble.com) points out that criticism can become a habit when people grow up in a family steeped in finding fault. These people may not be aware of the damage they are inflicting by being so critical, and they merely criticize others because they are constantly criticized themselves. Keenly attuned to an environment of negative thinking, these critics pass a bad habit to other generations. People can receive wounds inflicted by criticism in their childhood and carried in their subconscious minds as conditions that later cause them to become sarcastic adults.
Today, it is relatively easy for people to lob accusations and point out problems while sitting behind a computer screen in the comfortable confines of home. How much different would it be for these people to go face-to-face on common ground with their adversaries and have a rich conversation about an issue at hand? In the age of blips of information and dribbles of content, most prefer to aim their venom from afar and rely on minimal context to convey the bite of their message. Used as a defense mechanism, such criticism keeps others from getting too close.
Carla Valencia (http://www.selfesteemawareness.com/) contends that the more conscious people become about negative criticism they receive, the more they realize that these people are in pain and have no other way to express it. These pained people may feel that being critical gives them a great deal of power and control. Their behavior forces others to pay attention to them while they hide their imperfections behind a black veil of criticism.
Valencia makes a distinction between receiving criticism instead of receiving feedback. Excess criticism usually signifies that the critic has low self esteem. People who feel inadequate and who want to feel superior to others put people down through criticism so they can feel better about themselves.
Feelings of superiority stoke the inner fires that make these people feel right in their narrow views. As Neil Rosenthal puts it, being overly critical "convinces me I’m right and you’re wrong and protects me against criticism by striking first." (heartrelationships.com)
On the other hand, good feedback can be dutiful to the critic and very beneficial to the recipient. To gain something useful should always be the goal of the message. In turn, to teach something useful should always be the goal of feedback.
Over criticism serves to degrade and to tear down the self esteem of others. People haunted by anger over unmet goals may live miserable lives and blame others for what has happened to them. (toknowmyself.com)
People may ask themselves, "Am I attempting to better a situation or just be heard? Is it worth it to answer back if I know the other person is resistant to change? Am I offering feedback because of something I fear myself?" When the answer is yes to any of these questions, the critic should see a red flag.
Ron Potter-Efron, author of Rage gives excellent advice to those concerned about being overly critical:
First, Potter-Efron suggests you train yourself to look for the good, instead of the bad in others. Set a goal for the next 24-hours to notice as many good things about the world and about other people as you can. Do this every day for a month. You’re retraining your brain to think in an entirely different way, so it will take time. Second, set a goal of noticing the good in others during moments when you would otherwise only see their bad points. The following question may help you: “I could have complained about …., but instead I noticed….” The more you train yourself to look for the good, the more good you will find. Third, look carefully at your inner critic and what s/he says to you—about you. Your inner critic operates by critiquing, criticizing and correcting your behavior, but frequently does so in a way that really undermines your self-esteem and self-confidence. It can easily make you feel like a mental, intellectual and emotional midget. If you’re pretty critical of others, it’s a fair guess that you’re extremely (critical) of yourself.
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