Friday, July 13, 2012


Who needs it? 

Well…everyone, in my opinion. Trees where there is no wind grow up weak. And of course, trees where there in nothing but wind hardly grow up at all. But in between is best, where there is wind but not extreme wind, and wind that only blows hard once and a while. Of course we are not trees but I do think we benefit from other people examining our actions critically, looking, like wind, to stress our weaknesses. I’m talking about fair-minded and directly expressed criticism here, not vindictive or malicious attacks. If it hurts to be negatively criticized in a fair way, it can get easier with repetition. The trick is to let the pain happen without reacting to it. I know, this is very hard to do. But I know from personal experience that it is at least possible to get better at it.

Now sometimes criticism can be justified and backed by truthful observations and sometimes it can be unjustified and backed with biased projections or selectively chosen data. Letting the criticism in does not mean accepting it as truth, it means accepting it as criticism, letting it in as such. Then, later, you can mull it over, test it with your own observations and decide that it doesn’t really resonate with you, or you can decide that it does and make an effort to act differently in some way, or you can just let the rightness of the criticism work its own magic on your actions. But only if you don’t react in defensiveness and closed-mindedness.

I am by no means an expert on this and by no means always successful at not reacting when I’m criticized, but I know one thing for sure, I do take criticism seriously. I don't just obey it or assume it's right, but just about anyone can see some things about me that I cannot. So I do my best to take it in, not assuming the other person is right, wrong, jealous, or whatever. I try to make sure I understand what they're getting at, and then I take it in and see if it feels right or not. I find that very, very seldom does anyone's negative take on me have no basis in fact. Even when they are largely "wrong", they're never completely wrong. There's almost always some truth to what others see or say about me.

I find that if I get similar criticism from several people over time, that there must be something to it and not always the obvious, "They must be right", conclusion. There could be a way in which I am communicating that is being consistently misread. Or out of one kind of fear or another, I might be projecting a small part of me in a way that makes it seem larger than it is. I've made some real adjustments at different times in my life that were based on realizing that how I presented myself was not being read accurately by other people.

You know, it's like when eye contact in one culture is cool, but in another culture it means you want to fight? We have our mini-cultures too and sometimes people, (acutely when it comes to autistic people), have a hard time reading into those signals and need to refine them. I know that's been true with me over the course of my life, and I consider myself mildly autistic. So criticism has helped me refine my ability to perceive how I’m being perceived.

I recommend cultivating friendships with some sharp critically-minded people. People who will not accept whatever you say about yourself at face value. People who are willing to tell you what they see and think about you and who are willing to stick around, hear your side of the story and engage in a kind and honest dialogue if necessary.  And I recommend practicing letting in their criticism too, just not un-critically. 


  1. Excellent post, Gene. And I agree with you in that we have the opportunity to improve when we are examined by others. Two things come to mind when I read your article. One is that, not only do we need to receive the criticism in a constructive and critical manner, but we need to learn to give criticism in such a manner as you described. This task is just as hard to learn as it is to evaluate the criticism we receive objectively.
    This plays into the second of my thoughts. In that this is what we do when we are playing partner exercises. As we connect with a partner we are engaging in constructive criticism – or not. If we approach each other in a respectful manner then the encounter becomes a learning experience for both partners. However, if we engage in a vindictive or malicious manner then the experience becomes something else that become reactive and defensive. But we can still learn from it or at least one of us does if we open our mind to examine what took place in the encounter.
    And yes, there are unknown objects that others may not know about us but we know and do not share. It may be a disability such as a physical injury that limits our movement or a mental or emotional limitation that hampers our perceptions.
    As you stated, it is up to ourselves to evaluate the information and, based on our own knowledge, glean that nugget of useful information we can apply to our lives.
    Thanks, I enjoy your writing and philosophical wanderings.

  2. Will see if I can post as myself. Thanks Gene.
    Daniel Brasher

  3. Thanks Daniel and I agree totally about the partner work. I do pushing hands that way with my students...we play as though winning the game (upsetting your partner's balance) is important...that's to keep the game itself going and functional...but we have an underlying idea that learning is more important than's just that it's hard to learn if you don't adopt the role of "one who is trying to win". It's like playing tennis without keeping can be fun, but you don't learn much. So we play "as if" winning is important but really knowing that learning is more important. When I "get" my partner, I'll often go back and repeat what worked on them over and over until they can read my set-ups and preempt my push...then I have to be even better to get it to work again since I showed them how to counter what I've done...So helping them get better helps me get better...This I find is a nice way to balance competitiveness (playing as if to win) and cooperativeness (helping each other get better). Thanks for your comments and kinds words. Much appreciated. GB