Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Criticism Thing


We all like to mutter or shout or grumble our criticisms of others, and we most of us, most of all don’t want to hear any criticism of our own wonderful self. We like to hear praise. We even fall for flattery. But criticism, nah, we don’t like that.

Hmm. Gurdjieff once suggested that the shortest route to wisdom was to do the upside down of what the conventional wisdom says, so what if we did this with our criticism inclination. What’s that mean? That means we could imagine and then pull off liking to get “criticism” coming our way, and not liking criticism going out.

How weird, but then again Gurdjieff was a sly old rascal. Let’s see how to go about this. We’ll start with the least obvious: how to like criticism coming our way. Here’s how we’ll do it. First, let’s see what “criticism” really is. It’s words that we don’t want to hear. Someone says we are a jerk, or are selfish, or mean or stupid. Most of us are so conditioned to feel whipped down by “criticism” that we often don’t even hear how light the actual charges are. In reality. Of course, in some puffed up picture of ourselves, we imagine that we are never a jerk, never stupid, never mean, never selfish.

In reality though, I’ve been all those things, haven’t you? So, the “criticism” is just telling us what we already know. We don’t like to hear it, but oh well. That’s life. We love to judge. Others love to judge. Sometimes they judge us. Maybe they’ve had a bad day. Maybe they are feeling bad about themselves and see the flaw more easily in us. Maybe we are a convenient outlet. Maybe we really have been a jerk or selfish lately, and they haven’t learned to say things like, “Have you ever thought that if you did it this way, you might get better results.”

So be it. Just because they don’t know how to be diplomatic is no reason for us to fall apart. We can simply listen. Hear the actual words. Look for a way to see if they are true: Yep, I was stupid, or a jerk then. Yeah, I was being selfish. Sorry about that. Then they are clear with what’s bothering them, and we can improve if we want to.

Now, there is often an undercurrent, or a tone, or both, with criticism, a you are yuk, you are no good tone. This is what we really don’t like. But we don’t have to believe it. I’m selfish, sometimes, sure, but that doesn’t mean I’m yuk, it just means I’m selfish sometimes. How about you?

And then, the criticism out, for this the Work of Byron Katie is the cure. As she suggests, we love to judge, so let’s admit it. Judge our neighbors, and then write it down. Put the criticism down on paper. Ask four questions and then, TURN IT AROUND. As in, you should appreciate me, turns around to: I should appreciate you. You don’t listen very well, turns around to: I don’t listen very well. You are a jerk sometimes, turns around to, I am a jerk sometimes.

So, we don’t have good, good me looking down at bad, bad you anymore. We have less than perfect me, first noticing the flaw in less than perfect you and then using that as an opportunity to see the flaw in me. We are the same. We are like each other, so I can get back to liking you, my fellow imperfect being. This is good, isn’t it?

I think so. Give it a try, and you might find a whole lot of life’s burdens lifted for you.


At 3:05 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post. The Sufis evolved a method of inviting criticism for this very purpose - they called it the 'path of blame', the malamatiyya.

They would pretend to act in a 'bad way' (they might say they had been out drinking and consorting with prostitutes for example when they really been spending the night in prayer) and would be judged by society accordingly without complaint.

They held that this path purified their ego and helped towards humility by fighting pride. Very interesting group - Gurdjieff borrowed many teachings from them.


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