During much of my life, I’ve ironically criticised the United States as being a nation of critics. I’ve also realized the hypocrisy of thinking and saying this. But all of us are hypocrites from time to time, just because we’re humans.
Like millions of people, my formative years were spent growing up in the highly critical environment of a right-wing, conservative family unit. Also, like millions of people, I attended public school in a conservative, Midwestern small town. And, like many others, I didn’t like nor fit in with that social milieu. To survive, and eventually thrive, I managed to weather a lot of negativity and criticism.
To get by, without getting physically beat up and in efforts to avoid verbal abuse, I discovered that invisibility is a strong defense mechanism. I often wished I could literally become physically invisible, at will. It turns out there are plenty of other folks who use or used invisibility as I did.
I was lucky, in that I have always enjoyed deeply investigating the World and how I fit into it. Not only did I love to try on various religions and philosophies, I picked up some helpful insights in the process. These studies helped me to overcome most of the scars of childhood. Unfortunately, there are other people who didn’t bother to study outside the box. Their past hurts have continued to define their behavior towards themselves and others right now.
I don’t wish to troll for sympathy, I only mention this background so you might understand my point of view as I dash off a few thoughts about critics and criticism.
To a greater or lesser degree, we all have to endure criticism from other people. There might be many reasons our critics treat us so negatively. They may have picked up on a character flaw or mistaken view, then they exaggerate and use that against us. That might be interpreted as a crude attempt at constructive criticism or your critic might just be mean-spirited.
However, if somebody is lashing out with an attack on you, as a person, this is a direct, personal attack. We are told that we must ignore personal attacks because nobody has the right to determine our personal self-esteem. I disagree with this approach. Personal attacks cannot be simply ignored.
Oftentimes, verbal, personal attacks quickly escalate into bullying and physical violence. In these instances, vigilance is required to enable the most wise response according to the circumstances.
Meantime, if the criticism largely regards something you’ve done or said in the past, a different approach is needed. First, take some deep, calming breaths, then filter out any personal insults from the critique, and ignore them. Whether the criticism comes from your boss or a close family member, it’s time to recognize that your critic is trying to help, not hurt you. I found that if I can calm myself down, I might actually learn something helpful from these situations.
It is the personal experience of the critic and critique that easily projects into the national/international venues. This attack mode is what many of us find troubling. All of history is filled with partisan bickering and stalemate. There is the progression of social repression and oppression of minorities. Often, the criticism spills over into the international field, and erupts into war. It is the domino effect of offensive criticism that lies at the heart of so many of our problems.
When political or nation-sized criticism is expressed, it is rarely constructive. The idea is to complain, and take a cynical attitude. One faction intends to subdue another faction. The emotional backdrop quickly predominates and hotter minds prevail. One faction is agressive, and the other is passive-agressive, then the roles reverse. Fair play is exceedingly rare in the political sphere.
Lately, the cycle of negative criticism has spiraled downward into a stagnant quagmire nationally and internationally. There seems to be no graceful way out of this problem. The negativity became viral years ago. Not only does the negativity feel awful, but it is truly harming our nation and the World around us. It doesn’t look like there is anything on the grand scale to use as a remedy.
In my opinion, this destructive problem is most effectively addressed on the personal scale. Many of us have learned how to deal with negative, personal criticism. Widespread education about personal conflict resolution needs to be taught as a prioritized practice in popular and mainstream culture.
As people realize the happy, positive benefits of constructive reaction when dealing with problems and criticism, more of us will demand similar behavior from our politicians. This is one of the pet cures I ponder as I think of ways we can help each other get through these trying times. I hope this is not a Pollyanna view. If you believe it’s unrealistic, fine. That wouldn’t be the first critique I’ve ever publicly received.
The Blue Jay of Happiness wonders if we can refrain from fighting against stuff but, instead, actively work for an uplifting, supportive, positive World for all of us.