I was reading through one of my favorite books last night (How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie). I needed some great quotes about criticism for the SHD Quote Database and I knew Mr. Carnegie wouldn’t let me down.
He had the following quotes waiting for me in Chapter 1:
“Criticism is futile because it puts a man on the defensive, and usually makes him strive to justify himself.”
“Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a man’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses his resentment.”
Take a few minutes to think about some of the people who have come into and out of your life. With each that comes to mind, ask yourself if you attach a positive or negative “feeling” to their name and memory? Those who are critical and, thereby, cause us to feel less than worthy about ourselves will cast the most negative vibes of all. They could have, mind you, been right about some of their criticism - we could have very well had it coming – but there’s generally not a soft spot reserved in our hearts for overly-critical individuals.
Mr. Carnegie shared the following story:
“When I was very young and trying hard to impress people, I wrote a foolish letter to Richard Harding Davis, an author who once loomed large on the literary horizon of America. I was preparing a magazine article about authors; and I asked Davis to tell me about his method of work. A few weeks earlier, I had received a letter from someone with this notation at the bottom: ‘Dictated but not read.’ I was quite impressed. I felt the writer must be very big and busy and important. I wasn’t the slightest bit busy; but I was eager to make an impression on Richard Harding Davis so I ended my short note with the words: ‘Dictated but not read.’
He never troubled to answer the letter. He simply returned it to me with this scribbled across the bottom: ‘Your bad manners are exceeded only by your bad manners.’ True, I had blundered, and perhaps I deserved his rebuke. But, being human, I resented it. I resented it so sharply that when I read of the death of Richard Harding Davis ten years later, the one thought that still persisted in my mind – I am ashamed to admit – was the hurt he had given me.”
Wounding a person’s pride and self-worth is an unforgivable thing. Often times, criticism comes from a very ugly, selfish place. We’ll convince ourselves that we’re criticizing this person or that person for their own good – but, in reality, it’s for our own selfish benefit(s). We want them to do differently because….well, because we want them to do differently! The overly critical person is, actually, the most selfish and self-centered person in the world.
We’ve all known them. They find something critical to say about everything and everyone. Nothing is ever good enough for them or seems to meet their standards. They’re dissatisfied with everything. That’s the common thread that’s woven through every overly critical person.
Being critical is like a lot of other things in life. It simply becomes a habit – one that, fortunately, can be broken. If the critical person would stop and think before opening his or her mouth, they’d probably be amazed at what was about to come out! I wholeheartedly believe that if they learned to curb at least 75 percent of their criticisms, they’d be a much happier person. How miserable it must be to only see the bad in life!
I had a teacher like that in high school. She never seemed pleased with anything. She was in someone’s face every single day. She’d even criticize the way kids were dressed. Sometimes she’d spend half the class talking about the evil of chewing gum. The other kids always joked about what her husband’s life must have been like. I always pictured a miserable little man staring frantically at the clock, counting the minutes until she left for work. I knew he had to be like the rest of us, Just wanting her to get out of the way.
I started thinking about her and her rants a few minutes ago. There were, of course, times when her points were perfectly valid. But she spent so much time DEMANDING respect that she never took the time to EARN it. When she entered a room she sucked the life and energy right out of it. No one really cared what she wanted – we just wanted her out of the way.
By contrast, there were teachers who would tell you what you needed to do, but did it in a way that was constructive, not destructive. They’d build you up, not tear you down. They earned their student’s respect and their student’s honestly wanted to please them.
If the overly-critical person would take all of that energy they spend on trying to fix other people and spend it on themself – they’d go further than the eye could even see. No one has the right (or should even have the desire) to police or parent everyone else. It’s a lose-lose situation that leaves everyone miserable.
When someone thinks us…whether we’re still on streets of gray or have moved on to the gold ones…we don’t want any ugliness attached to our name. After all, we spend our whole lives trying to bring honor to our name! The last thing we’d want is for ours to come riding into someone’s mind in a cloud of dust. We want others to think well and speak well of us. Being a critical person is the best way to ruin that plan.
Over the next week, pay close attention to how you deal with others. Count the number of critical, negative things you say. You’ll, I’m sure, begin to swallow the words before they come out of your mouth – or, at the very least, slap a better attitude on them first.
And that is, not only the whole idea – it’s also the first step in breaking an old habit and starting a new one. Everyone in your world will appreciate it, and your good name will appreciate it even more.