In “A Simple Formula for Living” one of the challenges was to go an entire day without criticizing anyone. Rather than focusing on those among us who are ‘keyboard warriors’, I’m choosing to focus more on the less technical forms of criticism. If you’ve ever been criticized by someone, you know it can be really painful. None of us likes being criticized, so why are we so quick though to criticize other people? Some are critical as they try to vent their frustration while a person with low self-esteem may criticize as a way to boost their ego. A critical person might envy someone. In fact, when someone criticizes another, they frequently draw attention to something they don’t like about themselves. Criticizing can become a habit if we engage in it enough, and we’ve probably all met people who seem too critical of everyone and everything.
If we have a problem, criticizing won’t solve that problem. There are some folk among us who proudly boast that they just “say it like it is” or that they’re offering feedback. There are subtle differences between criticism and feedback. Criticism tends to focus on what’s wrong and blames, whereas, with feedback, there’s a focus on improving. Criticism devalues while feedback encourages. Frequently we find it easier to criticize someone rather than compliment them. Criticism can be destructive to both personal and work relationships. Years ago, I was critical about someone to another person. While there was truth in what was said, I felt sick with worry that what I said would get back to that person. It was a good lesson for me to learn.
Often we’re kinder to strangers than our loved ones. I tried hard to never criticize my husband in front of or to my children. Running down a partner almost always undermines and damages the relationship. One of the things as parents we can forget is that children identify with both parents. Regardless of how dysfunctional a parent is, there’s still a connection for the child. My father was an abusive alcoholic, but it hurt me greatly if anyone criticized him. (I could though!) My parents separated while I was in my teens, but even into my late 30s they still hated and criticized each other, at times leaving me to feel guilty for having any relationship with the other one. Of course, by that time, I realized they had the problem, not me.
When parents are separated, a child can feel as though they’re in a no-win position. If they have a great time with Parent A, they may feel disloyal by sharing the excitement of what they did with Parent B. In the long run, all benefit if parents try hard to foster a good relationship between the child and the other parent. Enjoying and loving one parent does not mean a child loves the other one any less. Your child is far less likely to have emotional problems if they develop a healthy relationship with both parents. Of course, if we are critical of our child’s other parent, one day the child will be old enough to make the choice for themselves and resent the fact that we tried to deprive them of that relationship. (Of course, children’s safety is always paramount and in some situations, care must be taken. I’m referring to the vast majority of family situations in what I wrote above.)
How do we switch from criticizing to complimenting people? Like anything, practice it. In trying to focus on the good things we see in someone, a funny thing happens, we actually feel better about ourselves and we’re more pleasant to be around.
A good Bible verse to memorize about this comes from Philippians 4:8 – Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.