Not long ago I received an unexpected text from a family member asking me if I had time to talk. I let her know I had some openings the next day and I would be glad to talk then. Given I had not spoken to her in almost a year and she was unwilling to give me a clue as to the reason for her wanting to connect, I was uncertain as to the topic of the conversation.
The next day the phone rang at the expected time and after some shallow chit chat, she began to share with me her perspective on certain events and life choices I have made. The criticism and critiques from her limited perspective flowed like a heavy rain that overflows a gutter. I was told I was unwise, dishonest, and untrustworthy. As I attempted to reply I was interrupted and ultimately told via text it was clear I am unable to accept confrontation.
Unable to get a word in edgewise and unwilling to engage in unhealthy dialogue, I finally hung up the phone and was left between pissed off and bewildered. I wondered, as I have in the past, how someone with such little information and insight into what makes me who I am can make such grand value judgments on one’s motivations and life decisions. How someone who hardly has a semblance of a relationship can make indictments about my character with such ease.
A week has passed and as I often do, I ponder these situations, have discussions with my wife, and verbally process until I can arrive at some learnings. While this is not the first time I have been judged from afar, it has affirmed one thing for me . . . to ignore most of my critics.
I do know that anyone who puts themselves out there is going to get their fair share of criticism. Having authored two books and been a prolific writer for the last number of years, I am no exception, and what I receive pales in comparison to those who have a much higher profile. But, there are some valuable lessons I embrace when it comes to criticism.
Lesson 1: Most Who Criticize Have a Very Limited View of You
Social media has made us believe that we can get to know people. I had one acquaintance once tell me that she was “personal friends” with the over 3,000 connections she had on Facebook.
Our connections on social media give us mere glimpses into the lives of those we are connected with, but rarely if ever does it give us the full picture of who someone is.
Yet, without this deep insight and vision, many feel they have all they need to make critiques and tell someone what is wrong with their position and their decisions. This would be akin to looking through a small keyhole of a door and attempting to describe the room on the other side in totality. It is absurd. Criticism based solely on what is derived from social media should be largely ignored
Lesson 2: Very Few Give Benefit of the Doubt
One of the best emails I have received over the last year was from a friend I knew when I lived in Dallas more than a decade ago. He had seen some of my posts and articles and while he did not agree with all of my opinions (who does), he was writing to see if I was ok and just check-in.
What I appreciated the most about the email was his approach. I know he is more conservative than I am. I know that he does not hold to the same ideology that I have, but rather than judge and take issue with what I had written, he emailed to see how I was doing and offer to connect.
I am convinced that if we took the time — literally a few seconds to give people the benefit of the doubt we would save ourselves and others a world of angst. It can be hard and I am hardly a pro at taking this as a first step, but assuming the best about someone and knowing that we all live out of our own experience would change things drastically.
Lesson 3: Evaluate The Substance of the Criticism
When it comes to criticism about the work you put out into the world, it is important to weed out feedback and unearth that which merits consideration. Anything that is a personal attack and does not focus on the substance of your work can and should be dropped.
Take stock of those who bring you thoughtful insight and perspective as this can help teach you, change you, and allow you to be even better.
Are You In The Arena or Cheap seats?
Before you take the criticism of someone who sits on the sidelines and makes judgment calls from the back row of your life, consider the fact that they do not know your thoughts, your motivations, your current circumstances, and the conversations you have had with those closest to you. And once you realize this, give yourself permission to ignore their words and their criticism.
I am not naive enough to think this will be my last bout of harsh critique from someone or even a family member. However, when it comes, I hope I have the wherewithal to go back to these lessons. It was the events of this last week that reminded me of the words uttered by President Theodore Roosevelt in his famous Citizenship in a Republic speech when he said this.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
I would much rather be in the arena than in the cozy, yet cold and timid seats casting judgment which is better off ignored.