The Best Response to Criticism


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by Jayaram V

How do you respond to criticism? The essay suggests a positive approach to use criticism to know others and improve relationships.

When someone criticizes you, your natural reaction is mostly to feel bad about it or defend yourself. You may also feel that the criticism is unjustified or baseless. If you lack confidence or if you have no clear opinion about yourself, you may also feel pain and even accept the criticism as true, thereby doing further damage to your self-esteem. Criticism hurts. This is true even if you have trained hard not to be effected by other people’s opinions.

For every good person, there are several bad people. They do not speak truth, nor their criticism is intended to improve your or help you but to put you down so that you do not stand in their way or make them feel small or inferior. Living in this world, we have to deal with the opinions of such people and keep ourselves safe from their negativity.

Sometimes, you will face genuine criticism from others. If you are too caught up in defensive attitude and not being open minded, you may not receive the criticism well and may not perceive the truth in it. The critics are human beings too, and they have their own imperfections and psychological or personality issues. They do not necessarily possess the truth gauze. When you are criticized, remember that your opinion of yourself is probably more genuine than the opinion of another who do not know you as much as you know about you. He cannot read your mind, nor can he witness yourself as much you do.

Yet, we give so much importance to what others say and what they think about us. It is natural because we prefer to be approved and accepted by others, or at least respected and acknowledged for who we are. The truth is, in many respects, criticism is a reflection of the person who indulges in it rather than you. A critic’s criticism reveals more about him and his judgment rather than the object of his criticism. When people criticize others, it reveals more about them rather than the people they criticize. Have you ever felt about this way, when someone one criticized you? Probably, not.

It is true unless the critic is completely free from prejudice, bias, preconceived notions, set beliefs and ideas, and the conditioning to which humans are subject. The world exerts a lot of influence upon you. You must be completely free from it to discern things clearly, which is not possible unless you have practiced detachment, renunciation, sameness and equanimity for a long time.

Hence, you will hardly find such people who have transcended the limitations of the mind and overcome perceptual bias. If you find them, you will realize that they do not criticize anyone, but remain equal to the opposites of life. This fact we mostly ignore and feel hurt by other people’s criticism. When people criticize you, remember that it speaks more about them rather than about you.

Criticism is a personal opinion of the critic. It very much depends upon the person, his or her thinking, beliefs, knowledge, attitude and values. It is a product of his worldview, upbringing, values, beliefs, likes and dislikes, knowledge and ignorance. His or her intelligence too plays an important role. It also depends upon his relationship and attitude towards the person for whom the criticism is intended.

For example, if anyone asked Duryodhana of the Mahabharat his opinion about Krishna, imagine what he would have said. He would not have spared any words in criticizing him or finding fault with him. He had so many misgivings about Krishna, while the world worshipped him and looked upon him as an incarnation of God. The same Duryodhana would have severely criticized Pandavas too with choicest words, while the world believed that they were more just and honest than him and his brothers and allies.

On the other hand, Duryodhana would have showered much praise upon Shakuni, his uncle, who was a person of questionable character and intentions and who was mainly responsible for the bad blood between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Duryodhana would have praised Shakuni as a man of great wisdom and a great human being who stood by him in his hour of need. He would have also spoken positively about his brother Dussasana, who tried to disrobe helpless Draupadi in a full court, in the presence of all. Here one can see that Duryodhana’s worldview and his opinions and attitude towards others were part of his identity and personality and products of his belief system, thinking and attitude. There is always a difference between the criticism of a hateful person and a loving person, a fool and a wise man, and knowledgeable person and an ignorant person. Even in such cases, you have to keep individual differences in mind.

Therefore, if you want to know a person, know what he or she has to say about others, whom they appreciate and criticize. If you find them appreciating those who are otherwise known to be different in character or temperament, know that it is coming from their own sense of right and wrong, not from their perception of truth. A criticism which is not based upon true discernment and purity of perception and judgment should not be considered true criticism. You can ignore it or use to know the people who criticize.

Whenever you are criticized, you can use the same logic. Instead of feeling bad or trying to defend yourself, pause and think about the critic. Try to understand the intention and the person behind the criticism. Ask yourself, “Why did he choose to say it? What made him do it?” Here the word, “choose” is important. That choice speaks about the critic. Through his criticism or appreciation, that person is opening his heart and mind to you. He is letting you know what he thinks and believes in, and to what extent you can forge a relationship with him or her.

Every criticism helps you know about you or those who engage in it. Use it to improve yourself or your relationships. If you understand this truth, you will accept criticism as a blessing and an opportunity to become a better person with better awareness.

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