On rejecting most criticism and giving license to the best criticism

We come into a lot of criticism in the course of our lives.  Just on social media alone there is a lot. Some of it is directed at you, while other criticism comes at you indirectly. Some of it comes from people you like, while other critiques will come from people you barely know. You can be criticized for the things you say, the things you do, even for who you are: a man, a woman, a person of a certain race or financial class or nationality. Pick a trait you have and nowadays you can find someone saying something critical about it.

Given that you do have to deal with a lot of criticism, you can do take a number of actions. It’s not advisable, but you can run away from it. (For example, giving up on certain forms of social media, like twitter.) You can get into arguments with people. This seems like a good idea, but I often find it frustrating, endless, alienating, and the opposite of how you may want to be. You can learn to ignore it, though learning to ignore it is not always easy. Sometimes the criticism is invalid or worse, then it’s easy to ignore. But some of the criticism is valid and when that happens, it can get under your skin. It’s great if you are thick skinned, but if you are not, you need to do something else. You need to learn to manage criticism.

One approach to managing criticism is to use understand the idea of a license to criticize. This borrows from the famous Eleanor Roosevelt quote: no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. The idea of a license to criticize is that you should only accept criticism from a small group of people, regardless of how many valid and invalid criticisms you come across. A license is different from a right. As an adult, no one has a right to criticize you: you give them that ability. Even when you do give them the ability to criticize you, it is a privilege or license.  It is a license you are free to provide or revoke. They do not own it, and you get to say when they can or can’t use it. You should treat that license as valuable, and you should only give it to people whose criticism is going to result in you and your life being better as a result of their criticism.

In your life you will want to accept criticism. Accepting criticism from people you respect and who have an interest in seeing you succeed makes sense. You become a better person and enjoy a better life from such criticism. Accepting criticism from people you don’t respect and who have no interest in seeing you succeed makes no sense. That type of criticism just makes you miserable and ruins your life.

The next time you are offered criticism, ask yourself:

  • Do you respect this person?
  • Do you respect their criticism?
  • Is the purpose of their criticism to help you succeed?

If you answer Yes to those questions, then you will likely want to accept and act on that criticism. Otherwise it is in your best interest to ignore it and look for someone who can make you answer Yes to those questions.

Finally, the number of people you should give license to criticize you should be a very small number of people. It should not be something given out to just anyone you know, never mind just anyone on the Internet.

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