The Importance of Being Criticized

Previously, I’ve written about the importance of being offended, specifically the importance of being willing to learn from the experience of being offended rather than becoming trapped in self-righteous anger.  Recent events at the Republican Presidential debate have brought it to my attention that it is also important to be criticized.

Donald Trump, the man who is usually criticizing everyone else, was heavily criticized in the most recent debate in Houston, Texas.  There are some interesting highlights from the debate being publicized at the conservative magazine National Review.  They show Trump being roundly criticized for his past mistakes, his inconsistent positions, his arrogance, and his lies.

My guess is that in terms of how he views himself, this criticism will change nothing for Donald Trump except increase his feeling of being under attack.  This, of course, is how most of us handle criticism most of the time we receive it, which is to say that we often handle it badly.  I seriously doubt (though I do hope) that Donald Trump will take some of the criticisms to heart and modify his behavior constructively.

That, of course, is how we often do NOT handle criticism, which is to say that we generally do not handle criticism well.  And in part, this is because we generally do not provide criticism to others in a way that is likely to lead to it being handled well.  Our criticism is often harshly articulated, weighed down by our anger and self-righteousness, and destructive to the person we are criticizing.

Our criticism often takes the form of saying something like, “You’re incompetent/malicious/negligent and you need to get out of my way.”  This is the criticism that tears others down, and effective criticism builds others up.  This constructive criticism might take the form of saying something like, “I notice that you seem to be struggling with this.  Do you mind if I help you resolve it?”  This constructive criticism shows people how to overcome their weakness rather than relentlessly reminding them of their weaknesses and ascribing it to them as a consciously chosen character defect.

Though it’s much easier to handle constructive criticism well because our emotional barriers to internalizing it won’t be as high, handling either destructive or constructive criticism well requires the same basic skill: a willingness to let go of our pride and learn from the feedback of others.  This is an essential skill for the success of any relationship, whether it be with family, a spouse, or co-workers.

If we can’t get our egotistical pride out of the way long enough to see that in some cases (though certainly not all) we really do need to accept the feedback of others and change our behavior to better respond to both our duties and their needs, then we will grow very little, stagnating in our lives because we are content with who we are at this moment.  It’s important to receive criticism from others because we don’t clearly see all of our own failings, and others are generally better at seeing them because they have an outside perspective.

It’s important to take criticism to heart as best we can so that our hearts do not remain 3 sizes too small throughout our lives, so that our hearts can grow to hold more love for others as we learn about our own weaknesses and work through them diligently.  We can choose to take criticism as an attack or an opportunity to grow; I recommend the latter.

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