The Corrupt Nature of Criticism


“You are looking really tired”; “Have you tried ordering water instead of soda to cut down on calories to help you lose weight?”; “I think it would be a good idea if you stopped playing so many violent video games”; “Eh, are you sure you want to buy that Ford? I have never seen one that actually works”; “If you would swing a little left and tighten your core, I think you would hit better”; “You need to get yourself out there and try dating more people”; “Your hair would look so much better if it were highlighted”.

Like these statements, our world is full of criticisms from other people. Somewhere down the line, we have been trained that IF someone gives us a criticism, it MUST be true. I think its because, in our capitalist society, we are taught from a very early age to obey authority. People older and wiser than us MUST know best. This ideology functions, because in our most vulnerable and moldable years, we learn by observing those who obviously have survived the atrocities of the world and are still breathing; there must be something to their survival techniques that could be beneficial to us if we hope to reach that high up. For example, when I was learning to drive, my dad would criticize my driving; “Britany, you are going too fast”; “Britany, make sure you turn on your blinker”; “Britany, YOU ARE GOING TO RUN INTO A CURB”. And, I respected my dad’s criticism in this situation, because he obviously successfully navigated the rules of the road for however long, so he must know best.

When we are younger, we get criticism from our teachers in school; “Make sure that you capitalize the first letter of every sentence”; “Do not stand up and throw your trash away while I am giving directions”; “Cover your mouth with your hand when you cough so the rest of us don’t get Ebola”. We get criticism from our coaches; “Pull up higher on your releve and straighten your knees”; “Lead with your hips when you are swinging at the ball”; “Work harder”. We get criticism from our older, more “experienced” friends; “Wait for that boy to call you back. You want to play hard to get”; “Why are you so afraid to lie to your mom? I lie to mine all the time and she never finds out”; “CU is totally a better school than CSU; anyone who goes to CSU is a loser”. And, we listen to these criticisms, and accept them as truth, because we trust that those who are older and wiser MUST know best, and if they are taking the time to criticize us, it MUST be a valid thing, and we should find a way to adhere to their warnings or recommendations.

However, the older I get, the more people I interact with, the more I realize that the older and wiser are actually very corrupt, and perhaps the advice they give could be very corrupt as well. When I was growing up, my teachers could do no wrong. They were angels, knights in shining armor, omniscient gods of the universe. And, then I student taught, and hung out in the teacher’s lounge, and witnessed some slightly corrupt conversations that gave me severe cognitive dissonance and made me change my perception. Of course, teachers are people, too. They have their fair share of faults, and are not perfect, but it puts the student in a dangerous position when the teacher gives criticism that is corrupt. I started going back, and re-considering some of the advice I once deemed as “truth” because it came from a teacher that perhaps had some corrupt roots. Perhaps when the teacher told me to “stick to the five paragraph essay”, it really had more to do with the teacher not wanting to grade more writing rather than me turning in a ‘bad’ essay. Perhaps that dance instructor who used to yell at me for “being out of formation” actually had more to do with her feeling intimidated by me. And, that older friend who told me not to waste my time applying to that scholarship maybe said that so she, herself, could have a better chance of winning instead, and it had nothing to do with my abilities at all. In these cases, the criticism did not come from those who are older, wiser, better, stronger, but rather those who are inexperienced, selfish, lazy, intimidated.

I think criticism comes from two different camps: from those who genuinely care about our well being and genuinely tell us stuff to make our lives better, and then from those who are trying to use criticism to suppress others to elevate themselves. I am not sure if there is some “magic formula” to determine what the true intentions behind the criticism might be, but it probably depends upon the person, and your relationship with them. At dance camp last week, I watched one girl walk up to another and ask, “How does my poof look?” The girl replied, “It looks ok. Did you try teasing it with the super expensive teasing brush I have? My poof looks awesome”. In this case, the criticism probably came from the latter girl putting down the former in order to feel better about herself; in comparing poofs, she wants to acknowledge that her poofing brush is a much better product, and therefore, she must be a better person. On the flip side, I was talking to my dad last week about how many kettles I currently have in the fire, and my dad’s criticism was, “Britany, I think you need to quit something. This is not sustainable. You need to sleep”. In that case, his criticism was probably that of genuine care and concern.

I think there comes a time in our lives where we must decide that the criticism we are receiving, although maybe genuine, does not serve us. We all live different lives, we all come from different places, we all carry the burdens of different experiences and knowledge and emotions. What works for someone else may not work for me. When I tell people I need a husband who is gone, often, I always get criticized: “Britany, how is that even a relationship if you don’t see each other? That is never going to work.” Or, I recently got a book criticism that said, “I think it would be better if you moved this part to the beginning and took out these commas”. Or, one time I tried out for a professional dance team, and the coach told me I should “lose some weight and do more strength training”. What I have to remember is, what works for me certainly won’t work for everyone. I will probably divorce someone that I see all the time, because I need time to myself where I can process and write. No, I don’t think I need to change that part, because it would change the threads that run through the rest of that book. And no, I don’t think I need to lose any weight; my work out routine is just fine, thank you very much, and I am very pleased with my body image. At some point, while I should consider the criticism, I must also learn to be firm in my decisions and confident in my personality, and remember that what works for me may not work for other people, but that is acceptable, because we are all different, and different is what makes life fun and exciting anyways.

9 Responses

  1. It’s all about balance. Thanks so much for sharing this as I constantly deal with not only criticism from others but more often than not, from myself. I seek to see other people’s motives and where they’re coming from. You helped me realize my self criticism comes from insecurity. Of course I want to do good and this or that, but perhaps the best thing for me is to do self encouragement rather than self criticism.

    You’re doing great, thanks for writing this 🙂

  2. I have a book that explains the psychology of the “malicious” criticism so to speak and how ego plays into social power hierarchies when it comes to stuff like that. It’s pretty psychology based, you’d like it (yes you can borrow it from me sometime! )

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