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April 11th, 2020
A skill rarely developed among people is the ability to receive and integrate criticism. Examine the way we normally phrase this, it’s all about how well you take criticism, as though it were a punch in the gut. During a time when so many people seem to have forgotten that only sticks and stones can break our bones and words need not ever hurt us, skillfully handling and using criticism is a superpower by default of its rarity. While most are too busy trying to figure out just how injured they should be based on the word choice of others, a person who looks only for beneficial interpretation is fortifying their own agency.
The difference between the two seems at first obvious, but in reality is a bit more subtle. The ‘snowflake’ as such sensitive people are referred to in an ironically affectionate way, derives their worth from the view the rest of the world takes of them. While the person who has developed a process for ingesting criticism has an internal source of worth.
Most personal hells would melt away for people if they could make this subtle switch from external validation to internal. Or rather external invalidation, as this is how much criticism is interpreted.
The subtle issue in this difference is that the individual who takes criticism well isn’t just deflecting it without emotion or ignoring it, but taking it in, just as our snowflake can’t help but hear every last critical word. The difference is what happens to that criticism in the mind of each. To ignore criticism is to miss an opportunity. It’s certainly not pleasant when people throw verbal rocks in your direction, but its important to take a moment to see if any of those rocks are diamonds. It would certainly be an important detail to overlook, indeed critical to what’s really going on.
It says a lot about a person who responds to criticism by seeking out more details of that criticism.
Such an individual has developed the skill of decoupling emotion from such situations. How does a person do this? By understanding deeply that there really is opportunity buried beneath that unpleasant emotion. And the spoils of that opportunity always outweigh the consequences of giving in to unhelpful emotions, if only for the fact that it’s an opportunity to handle those internal emotions and gain a little more agency with regulating and managing them.
But interest in the details of criticism goes a step further. It involves a question, from the person being criticized to the one with the difficult opinion or sobering observation. A question, if not sarcastically or belligerently phrased often comes across as a subtle compliment. It says “I’m not just interested in your point of view, but I value your point of view. So much in fact that understanding your point deeply is more important than my pesky emotions.”
A question is a supertool for softening a person by giving them the opportunity to open up. The act honors their perspective, and the effect of such flattery has a chance of making any further criticism more thoughtful and less abrasive.
Flashy, vitriolic criticism is often an attention stunt, and it can be diffused and converted into real value by the willing perspective of a person who seeks only to improve, even in the eyes of their enemies.