Saying No to a Culture of Criticism

“There are too many noises in the apartment. The dryer buzzer just buzzed. It’s supposed to buzz three times. It only buzzed once,” Coco woke me from a deep sleep to tell me this. I walked her back to her room, laying beside her in her twin bed.

I thought about my last couple of days.

I was so proud to have gotten published in Salon and so unprepared for the barrage of criticism. My mind drifted to my workplace book club where my women colleagues had so many negative things to say about the Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World by Lisa Bloom. I thought the book was awesome. I loved how Bloom attacks tabloids and reality shows. And, of course, those conflicts are manufactured for our entertainment.

In my lunch time book club, all these brilliant coworkers trashed Bloom because she was writing about the failings of mainstream media while she was a part of media herself.

At all these people criticized me for my story when I never asked what they thought (but I guess Salon asked by opening the comments to a free-for-all.) I wrote more about this on my writing blog yesterday.

Last night, comforting my daughter, holding her hand as she drifted back to sleep, I thought, we live in a society of criticism. We constantly criticize one another. I’m not sure if it’s the vitriol of reality shows, politics or our own insecurity over jobs, relationships, parenting, whatever.

Trash talking bonds people together. “Look, isn’t Bloom an idiot!” “Yes, I agree.” But the whole thing leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Not a sweet one.

An article popped up on my Twitter feed this morning — about happiness helping productivity (Do Happier People Work Harder? by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer)

Employees are far more likely to have new ideas on days when they feel happier.

Yes! True for me. When I delight in criticism of other people I internalize it, get in a habit of criticism and then criticize myself and hold back on my creativity and kindness — as if we should be stingy with our happiness. As if joy in life, in our accomplishments were a weakness not a strength.

I struggle every single freakin’ day to be happy.

While I’m criticizing our culture for being so critical, I’m also happy there are writers like Bloom, Amabile, Kramer, and even me. Who ask, What do we need if not more criticism? The Times article says we need to “support workers’ everyday progress.” Simply pay attention to one another’s well being and stop the barrage of negativity. Simplistic? Maybe.

I go back to my rules, especially my rule learned from improv. Say yes! Happiness is harder but encouragement is essential. I like to take the difficult path.

Coco was fast asleep in her twin bed by now. The dryer had stopped tumbling. I was falling asleep myself. I unwound from her blankets. As I pulled my hand away, she squeezed it. Thanks!

2 thoughts on “Saying No to a Culture of Criticism

  1. Thank you, MB – I needed this today!
    I consider myself a devout optimist, but even I have days where I’m not looking at the glass as half-empty, I’m looking at shards of glass on the floor in a puddle of water. The days that I feel this way are the days when I feel criticized. Either by someone else or my internal dialogue. I always hold on to the the “it really is okay” thought in my head, but some days it is really hard to hear. I find that most destructive criticism comes from the people who themselves feel criticized – criticism is like a disease. Or maybe it’s a nasty symptom of perfectionism? Who knows. But you have kindred spirit that will always prevail.
    I’m really glad I found your blogs – I read your piece on which, by the way, I found very entertaining. I could tell immediately that you didn’t reeeally want to, if you did, you would have called him. I’ve been married nearly 17 years and I just love it when I have a day where I meet someone and realize that my mojo still works. That’s all it is. Geeze, you would think people would be understanding and at least let a gal write about it!

  2. Wow! Megan! Yes, that’s it totally. I know I can rise above criticism, but I am perpetually a people pleaser and have always loved, wanted, needed the gold star. Yes, you’re so right. Criticism is like a disease, so contagious. And so is optimism and happiness. Getting things published does make me happy, but also makes me more open to criticism, which doesn’t make me happy. Irony! Thanks for commenting and reading!

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