Thursday, April 24, 2014

Killer Criticism (StoredStory #18)

We stood outside a gas station, just around the corner from my friend Shay's* house. The evening had painted the air a smoky gray. Shay had wanted to get a pack of smokes and a case of Bud Lights.

As we chatted, smoke billowing up from our faces, Shay took note of my two front teeth.

"You know, you could get those sanded down, level," she offered. I imagined some industrial sander held over my mouth as my teeth were rubbed down to the gums.

"It would look better."

At first, I figured it was the L.A. in her that made her think about the aesthetics of my upper, central incisors. It's not like I have vegetable peeling, bunny chompers. They are a little longer than the adjacent teeth. So what? And who was she to give unsolicited cosmetic advice? "Kiss my ass," I said on the inside. I'm sure I flashed a smile in an effort to gracefully take the insult. This unsolicited advice has been filed away, internalized for years now.

I'm not sure that criticism of your physical features (something you obviously didn't choose) counts as advice.

But, I have had advice and constructive criticism on the brain lately, and this story came to mind.

Criticism of any kind is like a killer in a horror movie. It comes in all shapes and sizes.  We run from it, we hate it, we get angry at it, we shield ourselves as it jabs at our egos, and we want to kill it before it kills us. But, if it is constructive (you know the kind--where we are given specific and helpful feedback on some endeavor or behavior of ours) then we can learn from it.

This doesn't mean the criticism is always kindly delivered. And, it doesn't mean that the person is truly motivated by helping you; the advice giving could just be a tool used to inflate the advice-giver's ego. However, (this is worth repeating) if it is constructive, we can learn from it.

I recently read a couple of articles that offer some perspective on giving and taking advice. I think there are some good points in Leo Babauta's thoughts on taking advice. It really helped me dismantle the wall in which I'd trapped one my recent killers.  Leo also offers his wisdom for anyone who does the criticizing.

Matt Walsh has a good point in his article about internalizing criticism that is constructive.

"I ask that you try an experiment. Just do this for a day. Just one day. Try to go about your day under the following four pretenses: 1) You are not perfect. 2) You could stand to improve in every single facet of your life. 3) People who point out your flaws or critique your actions aren't necessarily motivated by cruelty, hatred, and animosity. 4) Some people know how to do certain things better than you know how to do them, and you should be grateful if they take the time to offer you guidance and insight into their areas of expertise.

Try to navigate one 24 hour span like the sort of person who believes these four things."

I felt wounded last week when I got some feedback that was unsolicited. It's not that I don't take criticism, but I felt angry at the delivery. Yet, even in the minutes after the conversation, I alternated between, "Oh, this is helpful and raises a good thought" and "I didn't ask for advice; you shoved it in my face. How dare you!"

Sometimes it takes a while to de-killerize killer criticisms, especially when someone set them loose on you without you asking. But, if it is about something you care about doing to the best of your ability, then it helps to face the killer.

*Name changed.

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