Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.
Not to brag or anything, but I am preeeeetty good at talking shit. It just kind of happens when you combine average intelligence with a certain level of observational skill and firsthand experience of people being sucky. This isn’t a skill I’m proud of or anything, but I used to think shittalking was fine as long as I reserved my judgments for things worthy of criticism.
Recently I had a change of attitude, but you’ll have to follow me on this train of thought. I was considering how we are only capable of processing and interpreting the outside world in terms of our own understanding of it, which is based on knowledge and experience. We are the lens through which we view the rest of the world.
I can’t remember who I was talking (or thinking) negatively about when it hit me that I had been upset about something I knew I, too, was guilty of on occasion. From there I ran through a list of all the people I’d been critical of recently and the nature of what my problem was, and blammo– these were things I’d done in the past, was currently doing, or potentially might do in the future:
I was annoyed when a car cut me off in traffic.
I had been upset with a girl for bending over backwards to please a less interested guy.
I mentally rolled my eyes at someone for vaguebooking.
One of my friends was too wrapped up in her own personal drama to listen to my problems.
I laughed at a sloppy drunk chick for making a fool out of herself in public.
I railed against Americans for being lazy, fearful, self-medicating overconsumers.
I told a friend he would get more converts to his political cause if he didn’t act like such an abrasive asshole. Ha! (If you’ve been my Facebook friend for a while you’ll understand why that’s rich.)
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of similar criticisms- big and small, justified and unjustified– that pop into our heads. I realized that all these criticisms I was making were reflections of my own shortcomings. I was able to adeptly rip people to shreds because I had firsthand knowledge of these flaws in myself. This hypothesis was bolstered by looking at how the people I admire most as “genuinely good people” rarely speak ill of anyone.
I think it’s safe to say I’m not the only person for whom this phenomenon holds true. Like Julian “I’m Perpetually Late to Gigs Because I Don’t Respect My Fans’ Time” Casablancas (sorry, it jut spills out sometimes) sings, “We’re so quick to point out our own flaws in others.” In criticizing, it’s as if we hope to distance ourselves from our own flaws. It’s like saying “Hey, look over there! That’s where the problem is, not here” or “I couldn’t possibly be guilty of that because I obviously disapprove of such behavior.” It’s a deflection.
Aside from just being a dick move, this behavior is problematic because when we hide from our shortcomings, we can’t fix them. So now every time I think something critical, the next thought is “What am I really upset about? Is this actually something I don’t like about myself?” It’s a worthwhile exercise. Of course this doesn’t hold true for every situation (I’m not critical of seal furriers because deep down I secretly want to club baby seals to death), but it is worth exploring in your personal relationships. Changing my pattern of thought from criticism > dismissal to criticism > red flag > self-examination has been helpful for me, maybe it can help you too.
**Special thanks to Mr. David Hook for his drawring skills!