Don’t buy into harsh crit­i­cism

The only ex­pec­ta­tions we need to meet should be the ones we set for our­selves.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Opinion - star2@thes­tar.com.my Sandy Clarke

THE Amer­i­can writer and philoso­pher El­bert Hub­bard once ad­vised that, if we wish to avoid crit­i­cism, we should say noth­ing, do noth­ing, and be noth­ing.

Tempt­ing as it might be to heed the ad­vice, it would surely make for a dull life. Deal­ing with crit­i­cism is, like death and taxes, one of the cer­tain­ties of life that all of us are bound to en­counter.

Re­cently, I was asked by a reader for sugges­tions on how to avoid crit­i­cism, par­tic­u­larly as it deeply af­fects them when­ever some­one of­fers their dis­ap­proval. It’s dif­fi­cult to top Hub­bard’s ad­vice, al­though it would be dif­fi­cult for most of us to ac­tu­ally ap­ply it in our lives!

The next best thing, then, is to de­velop a per­spec­tive that al­lows us to cope well with any crit­i­cism so that we can avoid tak­ing it to heart and en­dur­ing the need­less suf­fer­ing that fol­lows.

If peo­ple found fault with Je­sus Christ, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, and the Bud­dha, it’s un­re­al­is­tic that any of us would be with­out crit­ics. Our words and ac­tions will never be to ev­ery­one’s lik­ing, and this is just a fact of life that ap­plies to ev­ery sin­gle per­son. There­fore, the first step in deal­ing with crit­i­cism is to re­alise that none of us is free from it: it’s some­thing that ev­ery­one faces. There’s noth­ing unique about hav­ing short­com­ings.

A story from the time of the Bud­dha talks about his visit to a lo­cal vil­lage. Ev­ery­one was so happy to see him and to hear his words of wis­dom. But there was one young man who hated the sight of the Bud­dha and thought him to be a fake who charmed the gullible.

Dur­ing the Bud­dha’s talk, the young man be­gan to shout and scream at him. The Bud­dha paid him no at­ten­tion, which only served to make the young man an­grier. Fi­nally, the young man con­fronted the Bud­dha face-to-face and said, “You have no right to teach any­thing to oth­ers. You are as stupid as ev­ery­one else. Stop fool­ing ev­ery­one. You are fake!”

Some fol­low­ers at­tempted to in­ter­vene, but they were waved away by the Bud­dha who posed a ques­tion to his critic. “Tell me, if you buy a gift for some­one and that per­son does not take it, to whom does the gift be­long?” Star­tled, the young man replied, “Since I bought the gift, if it wasn’t ac­cepted, it would be­long to me.”

The Bud­dha replied, “That’s cor­rect. It’s ex­actly the same with your anger. If you be­come an­gry with me and I do not feel in­sulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who be­comes un­happy, not me. All you have done is hurt your­self.”

When peo­ple crit­i­cise us, it can some­times be valu­able to re­flect on it. If a col­league tells us we haven’t done some­thing right or that we’ve be­haved in an un­help­ful way, it can help us to see what we could do bet­ter next time to avoid re­peat­ing the same mis­take.

How­ever, if some­one crit­i­cises us un­fairly or de­liv­ers a per­sonal in­sult, the chances are that they are look­ing for a re­ac­tion – and since none of us like to be crit­i­cised, our im­pul­sive re­ac­tion is freely of­fered up.

By re­act­ing to un­fair crit­i­cism, we are ac­cept­ing the so-called gift of an­other per­son’s neg­a­tive emo­tions and tak­ing them on as our own, whether they leave us feel­ing sad or in­ad­e­quate or an­gry. In other words, we are giv­ing some­one else per­mis­sion to con­trol our hap­pi­ness, which is some­thing we would never con­sciously choose to do un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances.

Peo­ple who need­lessly crit­i­cise oth­ers usu­ally feel in­ad­e­quate or un­happy them­selves, and so it makes them feel bet­ter if they can pass their dis­com­fort on to some­one else. A per­son who is con­tent tends not to feel the need to be­lit­tle oth­ers. On the contrary, they’re more likely to try to em­power oth­ers and lift their spir­its.

The trick to cop­ing with crit­i­cism is to try to avoid tak­ing it per­son­ally, even if it’s con­struc­tive crit­i­cism, which fo­cuses more on a spe­cific be­hav­iour or ac­tion rather than our­selves. By re­fus­ing to buy into harsh crit­i­cism, we refuse to ac­cept the “gift” and so the giver is left with the con­se­quences of his or her ac­tions. And if we think about whose opin­ions truly mat­ter to us, there’s prob­a­bly only a few peo­ple who fall into that cat­e­gory, so why worry about what any­one else thinks?

The mo­ment we stop out­sourc­ing our sense of self-worth to oth­ers is the mo­ment we stop need­ing to won­der whether we’re good enough ac­cord­ing to other peo­ple’s stan­dards.

From there, the re­al­i­sa­tion be­gins to un­fold that the only ex­pec­ta­tions we ever need to meet are the ones we set for our­selves.

Sandy Clarke has long held an in­ter­est in emo­tions, men­tal health, mind­ful­ness and med­i­ta­tion. He be­lieves the more we un­der­stand our­selves and each other, the bet­ter so­ci­eties we can cre­ate. If you have any ques­tions or com­ments, e-mail star2@thes­tar.com.my.

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