Criticize somebody you love. Today.

Let me start this story by telling you I do think we should compliment each other more. Compliments are probably the most thought and least vocalized trait of human interaction. I am not talking about the I-got-sexual-interest-in-you type of compliment a man gives to a women on a first date, like: “You know that your eyes are stunningly beautiful, don’t you?”. I am talking about a deeply thought-out compliment to a good friend you know very well. Think about the last time you gave such a compliment. It may have been some time ago. Maybe take the time now and type some lines to a special person on some social media platform, because life is hard and you may have the power to brighten someone’s day.

What value does a compliment have?

But what value does a compliment have? If it’s a genuine, appropriate and honest compliment, it may be able to deepen the relationship between two humans. It is a sophisticated way of sending a message of commitment. That’s it. And if you are like me and always want more, this is by far not enough value to get from communication.

The unworthy use of criticism

I like to surround myself with people I admire, people I can learn from, people that bring out the best of me. And for those people, I strive to improve day by day. Personal growth in order to be the best person you can for the humans you love. And there is nothing that limits all our personal growth more than the lack of honest, genuine criticism.

In fact, often the only time we criticize each other is under the worst possible circumstances. We let years of frustration build up and unravel itself in a flood of destructive complaints about another’s personality, fueled by the acute anger of the moment, induced by an incident that just happened. A time where the right decision would have been to lock up yourself and not speak with anyone until you managed to calm down.

You left the dishes in the sink unwashed again! Do you even care about our relationship at all?

When do we go all-out on the flaws of each other?

Let us take a step back and wonder what determines this moment. It is exactly the point where my value of our relationship does not longer exceed the pain caused by your behavior. It is the point I am ready to split ways with you, at least temporarily. I am finally giving you the opportunity to improve yourself when it would not even benefit me anymore! This sounds really counter-intuitive to me. Wouldn’t the logical consequence of no longer caring for a person be to instantly stop all efforts of criticism?

The cult of demonizing self-criticism

Maybe there is someone in your life who will always care about you. Someone always looking out for you. Someone who is deeply concerned with your happiness. I can guarantee there is someone just like that. It’s you.

When looking for an evaluation of your actions, you should always be able to come to yourself. Allow me to quote the popular physicist Albert Einstein:

He seems to be right about some things

Sadly, these days one is required to express maximum confidence at all times. Love oneself at all times. Your flaws are beautiful. You are entitled to be loved the way you are. I picked out some self-help mantra from Karen Salmansohn, an “award-winning designer” who now hands out life advice.

She seems to advise everyone to stop improving right now, because anyone seems to be good enough at everything at all times.

The devastating part: People actually pay money for her stuff. People rather like to hear that there is no problem than being guided to solving the problem. Maybe because that would mean taking a bite of the bitter apple of taking action.

Let me break this down for you clear and simple: A healthy dose of self-criticism fuels growth and does not at all imply having low self-esteem. There even is a personality trait describing the ability to evaluate yourself from an outside perspective: Being reflected. Think about someone you know you would refer to as extraordinarily reflected. Chances are he is also a remarkable person in other areas of his life. But for that to happen to yourself another criteria needs to be met.

You are responsible for everything that happens to you

There is an overlying condition to be complied to make criticism the powerful tool it is meant to be. It is responsibility, or more specifically the acceptance of responsibility. The unshakable belief that every problem affecting you is within the borders of your control.

As soon as I take away the acceptance of responsibility for my personality, my education, my health or anything else, every criticism of one of these features becomes the description of a permanent handicap for my life that threatens my well-being. Hell, that is scary.

(As a side note, never criticize a person because of something she/he actually has no control over, ever)

So without going into further detail about the reasoning, you will from now on take responsibility for every single problem life hands to you, if you not already are. You are going to stop giving a fuck about genetics, childhood, and society and if you ever hear the words “I’m sorry, but that’s just how I am!” ever again, you punch that person in the face. Do the world a favor.

The value of genuine criticism

So now I’m a well-reflected individual. Now I’m taking responsibility for everything that happens to myself. I’m able to thoughtfully critic my every response to life. Still, I am left with one more problem: The person whose opinion I now base my self-worth and potential of improvement on is probably also the person I should trust least with those issues. Myself.

Humans are just lousy at self-evaluating. We constantly over- or underestimate ourselves by large margins. Read about it in the study

Unskilled and Unaware of It”.

Sure. In the end, the only one you have to give account to is yourself. But personally, I would really appreciate some help from someone with a better perspective. And I am willing to give some perspective back when needed. Sounds like a deal, doesn’t it?

But Simon, how can I criticize someone without her/him getting mad at me instantly?

Sadly, there is a deep problem in the way criticism is viewed by society. If I offer you an honest, maybe harsh truth about yourself in a moment of intimacy, it should be clear that I do not want to bring you down. It is not even me who is causing the pain you may be feeling. It is the pain of revealing a deep insecurity about yourself that you were not able to put a finger on beforehand. After all, if there was no insecurity, why would you feel any pain at all? It is a shooting-the-messenger type of problem. I am not doing you any harm and I am not weakening our relationship.

On the contrary, my criticism only emphasizes my value of our relationship. I like you the way you are. I like you so much that I want you to be around for a longer while. I want you to become the best possible part of my life. And I am willing to help you grow personally. If you articulate this appropriately the criticized should be able to look past his acute feelings and give you the credit you deserve.

“A warm back”

I want to conclude with a story. I recently attended a seminar as preparation for a year of volunteer work at India. The seminar was filled with controversial and emotional topics, and the participants spend a good amount of time with each other discussing and recovering from discussions. I guess you could say we got to know each other pretty well.

At the end of the seminar, we did something called a “warm back”, where every participant wrote a compliment on every other participant’s back and I ended up with some of the most genuine, heart-warming compliments I ever recieved. It was a good feeling reading these. But shooting up some heroin is also said to be a good feeling.

What I had wished for would have been an “honest back”, where I would have been criticized in the most blatant way possible, without sparing me anything. It would have been a tough pill to swallow, but it would have shown me where improvement is the most necessary. It would have allowed me to grow. And growth cultivates happiness.


Call to Action

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