My name is Manoj Krishna. This is the first of 3 blogs exploring the subject of criticism, and based on book I’ve written Understanding Me, Understanding You, which is part of the non-profit Human Enquiry Project. In this blog I want to explore what happens when we are critical of other people.
Let me start with an example. If you come across someone smoking, you are much more likely to be critical of them if you are a non-smoker, than if you smoke yourself. Why is that?
Perhaps it is because our mind compares everything it sees and hears with what it already knows. If we encounter something very different, like someone with a different opinion, or doing something we wouldn’t, it creates a disturbance, along with a sense of irritation or even anger. This is because we are attached to our own point of view without realising it, and anything different feels wrong. We respond to this disturbance by being critical of the other person.
Being critical is another way of saying I am right and you are wrong, and that strengthens our sense of self which brings a burst of pleasure. These 2 mechanisms are automatic and work in the background, behind the screen of our awareness. This is why being critical of others can become an unconscious habit.
Unfortunately, this can result in conflict, because no one likes being criticised, especially if our irritation or anger is evident in our tone. If we do it repeatedly it can damage a person’s self-esteem. It can also diminish us, because we become closed to different ways of seeing and doing things.
Criticism is neither good nor bad, and sometimes entirely necessary. If we can however understand the mechanism behind it, we can respond with intelligence rather than in an automatic way. We may still say something critical, but in a way that does not convey our irritation or anger and trigger a defensive response. We may also just pause, and ask if we need to say anything at all, and accept other points of view as being equally valid.