That Critical Spirit

I’m naturally critical. The trait is strong on both sides of my family and it can be my greatest asset or my greatest weakness. It’s a gift to know that about yourself. It gives you the ability to watch for it and make choices. Being critical by nature usually means your choices come after weighing the positives and the negatives and implications of each next movement. Well, if you were taught to use it that way. My choice is to increase the critical side that’s an asset to me and others and to decrease using it to harp on faults. Sometimes I succeed.

It’s interesting to me that when we use the word “criticism” to talk about art or music or writing, it usually includes the good and the bad. There is some balance. If there is not balance, we become a bit suspicious. When we use criticism to reference people, we almost always take the good away. We focus on the bad. But criticism doesn’t always have to be negative. It’s wrong that we have reduced it to that level.

I know some who will say they’re not the critical type and yet they seem to eviscerate those around them, either with syrupy praise that is untrue (and not what they will say behind the person’s back) or with lightly veiled cutting comments that slam through a passive-aggressive facade. They criticize internally and it can’t help but come out, with subtle but deadly consequences. Let’s face it…..all thinking people are critical. If you refuse to deal with this part of your nature, know that some of us may be on to you….even if we keep that information to ourselves. You’re not as subtle as you think.

But we must handle people with care. I once tried to explain to someone in my life, whom I both love and respect, that when they criticize me the words have an impact a hundred times greater than those of any other “normal person.” I can mull their words over like I do the criticism of others, but I can’t do it without sieving it through strong emotion. When someone else tells me something negative I can brush it off after a while, and analyze whether I agree, but when it is one of “my people” it can set off a major internal emotional meltdown. Agree or not, it’s difficult for me to put it in proper perspective. In other words, it’s not always helpful. especially when it happens often.

Criticism should always be true. And not cheap. We’re all flattered by untruths on a regular basis, and probably cheaply flatter a few folks ourselves. That’s not a horrible wrong….some days it does lift spirits.

But what if, instead of just flattering or pointing out flaws, we critically survey someone and come up with truthful wonders about who they are. What if that is our focus? What if we breathe that into them? What if we enhance the positive so much it expands and the negative contracts?

I’m not naive and I don’t believe we never point out the negative. (Those who know me are shaking their head in agreement. Or laughing.) If we really care about people, and know we must do this, we should first ask ourselves “Am I committed to the good of this person?”, “Am I willing to put myself out there to help if they request it?”, and “Is this more about them, or more about me?” You learn a lot about yourself asking those questions.

Yes, I am critical by nature. At times it has hurt people. Some have told me, others I know because I have sensed it has, and I suspect some I don’t know about because they have secretly held onto it unnecessarily and let it negatively fester in them. Or just blew it off as chaff.

But other times, hopefully most times, I have reminded them of the things I celebrate about them….and things they should celebrate about themselves…or my words have shown something that will help them be their best self. Many have done the same for me.

As much as I talk, I’m a good listener. If you look at most of our world through negative glasses, and try to make me jump on that train, I will choose to ignore you and much of what you say. I must do that so I don’t let the negative side of my nature increase. You have a bad habit that is easily contagious.

But if you care about me and others, have a balanced view, and we’ve got that “iron sharpening iron” type of relationship….your words are gold. I will cherish your criticism, good and bad. That still does not mean I will agree with it, but I will consider it. Because you love someone, or admire them, or respect them and crave their opinion….they’re not always right. Or their take on something isn’t always right for you. The best relationships are those when opinions are offered, but there are no hurt feelings if they don’t adopt yours.

I have been the recipient of some very kind and helpful negative criticism, delivered in love. It left me affirmed and energized and clear-headed. Not devastated and feeling insecure. That’s as it should be.

Since I know my critical nature is not going to leave me, and really don’t want it to, my goal is that my words would be delivered so they are wings and not a ball and chain. Let my words always be spoken for the good of those who surround me. Criticism can give life instead of stabbing a heart out.

The rule in carving holds good as to criticism; never cut with a knife what you can cut with a spoon.” – Charles Buxton

“When virtues are pointed out first, flaws seem less insurmountable.”
– Judith Martin

“Be the one who nurtures and builds. Be the one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart, one who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them.”  Marvin J. Ashton

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