Mimi Meredith suggested I check out a post she wrote about refraining from criticism for a whole month. Being an obliging soul, I did, and I must say, her post really has me thinking. I have been maintaining that a lot of the strife we encounter online and in the real world is based on a sense of entitlement. You know, entitlement along the lines of, “I’m entitled to my opinion and yours is stupid.” But Mimi has a bit of a different idea. She thinks that we butt heads with each other a lot because we are so critical of each other.
In a way, this isn’t really our fault. Bloggers tend to end their posts by asking us to weigh in or by asking us what we think. Facebook and Twitter ask us what’s on our minds. We want to answer all of these things honestly, and honestly, a lot of times our first response is to critique.
Now why is that?
Do we default to criticism because it makes us feel like we are really engaging with the content we’re reacting to? After all, one would think you really need to absorb something in order to tear it all to shreds. Do our insecurities make us look for imperfections in other people and then pounce on those imperfections? Maybe we just feel like criticism is a way of being helpful.
Like I said, Mimi’s post got me thinking.
There’s offering criticism and then there’s criticising
Here’s the thing. Offering criticism can be a positive thing if you do it right. If someone sends you a blog post to read, you can deliver your criticism in such a way that it really does come across as helpful. “If you shift these paragraphs I think your point will pop even more.” “I like your word choice but maybe there’s something even stronger you can use.” See? I mean, only the most delicate of people would take offense at such things. If criticism is delivered negatively, however, it can be a real turn-off. If you’re given a post to read and your first response is, “Well, I wouldn’t have written it that way,” the reaction you’ll get back in turn probably will not be delightful.
It’s hard to offer criticism delicately, and it can be harder to take it. I think we’re all a bit out of practice. in an ideal world, criticism would not have negative connotations tied to it at all.
Living critically – Mimi’s definition
What Mimi is talking about is not gentle advice-giving. She defines critical living in three ways.
• Adding commentary that is really not necessary or constructive, but that is contradictory
• Making broad generalizations
• Making pronouncements without really listening
These are problems I’m sure we can all relate to, and probably from the vantage point of giver and receiver. If you’re in the first category, people may say that you just like to hear the sound of your own voice. Sometimes people disagree or offer a contradictory viewpoint just so they can get attention. I’ve noticed this particularly in the online world – few things draw traffic better than an outlandish critical post.
Broad generalizations are also prevalent in the world we live in. It all comes back to that “circles” mentality. “OK,” we say. “One person I saw with glasses on was mean, and therefore all people who wear glasses are mean.”
And as for speaking before listening, well, I call this the panther move. You pounce as soon as someone opens their mouth because you assume they are going to say something you disagree with.
With all of these critical reactions before us, Mimi notes that maybe we need to take a break from that kind of stuff. We need to try to refrain from our critical mentality. If someone says something, maybe we should listen all the way through, and instead of saying that the viewpoint is dumb, maybe we could say, “Huh, that’s an interesting viewpoint I hadn’t thought of before.” Instead of making broad generalizations, we could open our minds and approach people (or companies, or animals, or stores) as individuals.
Kind of freaky, huh?
Well, Mimi challenged herself and her readers to refrain from criticism for a whole month. Could you make it a month without criticizing anyone? I’m skeptical about my own capabilities to make it that long, which makes me realize that despite my best efforts, I am spewing out my own share of negativity into the online and real world ether.
It makes you stop and think, doesn’t it? How can we turn some of that negativity into something a little more positive?
So I’m going to do my best to refrain from criticism for a month. You keep an eye on me and let me know when I stray off track. And if you want to play along, keep me posted on how you’re doing.
Let’s all be a little less critical. During times like these, it could very well be critically important that we send out some positive vibes into the world – online and off.
Image by Gabriel Doyle. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/gabetarian