All criticism is self-criticism – Harry Hooton
This quote is short and to the point. The joy in it for me is that it is something you wouldn’t necessarily instantly understand or even agree with. In fact I think most of us would discount this or not even want to ‘go there’ and spend time thinking about it, especially if we are a little short on self-esteem and apt to self-criticism. Do we all self-criticise? Do we all have a touch of low self esteem because of it? I believe we can have both really high and low self esteem at the same time. That is because you can consider yourself really good at something and terrible at another. I wonder if you can add up all your mini self-esteem scores and come out with a total overall picture? You can’t always tell what’s going on inside another person of course and whether they are self-critical. The overtalkative, seemingly massive confident person could go home and beat themselves up mentally for talking too much and decide to be really quiet at the next gathering. The quiet wallflower in the corner who seems too unconfident to talk to anyone or dance, might actually be watching and judging everyone, thinking they all look stupid.
In regards to criticism, I have an example off the top of my head. I had a new best friend when I was 11, who had recently arrived at our school and whom I did not know that well. When we got together, she would get me talking (not difficult to do of course) and I would go away feeling bad that she hadn’t spoken or been able to share much; that I had selfishly monopolised the conversation. I was self-critical. But then I turned it around to criticise her instead, maybe to ease my uncomfortable feelings. At some point I worked out that she wanted me to do all the talking and I even felt that she was manipulating me like a puppet. I worked it out by making attempts to ask her about stuff and get her talking but I noticed that she sneakily brought it back to me each time. One day I decided that she much preferred gathering information to use against people, like power, just in case. I was an easy target. I had even less of a connection between brain and mouth back then, just plain enthusiasm. If she said how much she really liked someone I would instantly agree and jump in to expand on that and search my mind for all the good things I could think about that person. And, most unfortunately if she said she really disliked someone I would do the same, maybe in order to feel connected. I always came to regret it. Big time, whether through my own further self-criticism or because someone had spilled the beans as young girls do.. My point is that really I didn’t have to criticise anyone. I liked talking and she liked listening. If I hadn’t been self critical of my talkativeness, I would not have had to aim any of that poison at her. Our relationship was a little rocky. Happily I now have a filter on such thinking and can step back and observe a little more. I try not to jump into critical fests or negative conversations. If you go by the Law of Attraction (‘The Secret‘) you would thereby attract more of what you don’t like anyway, so just in case it’s true and because I would rather think of good stuff or at least use my mind for more fun tasks, I try to keep away.
The joy in getting older is that I am more tolerant and would rather look for the good or at least look for understanding in situations. That makes me feel like I live in a really friendly world. And my friend? We stayed friends until we left school and I emigrated to Australia but last I heard, she had become an alcoholic, like her parents so I guess she had her own demons to deal with. I would keep in touch if I could find her though. What I learned is that either way, there is no point beating yourself up or feeling guilty about anything at all! And that means being self-critical. You have created a ‘version’ of events that doesn’t make you feel good. So create a new one that does.
Which actually comes round full circle to the quote. I digressed in a big loop. So if we are criticising something, whether out loud or in our heads, and judging unfavourably, it must have began with a negative thought. And that thought took root in a mind which allows or nurtures such thoughts, like a seed taking root in a garden. Is your garden barren and dry, where new ideas cannot sprout at all because you think you already have all the answers? Is it lush and fertile, where every idea grows (imagination abounds in this garden) or is it lush with imagination but full of weeds; the kind that are thorny and hurt you?
This is how I imagine someone who is very critical of the world. Ideas, concepts, people, new things etc make an impression and thoughts can start to grow in this mind, but a critical way of looking at the world invites the kind of things to grow that may not be doing them any good. It’s like polluting your headspace or vandalising your garden. Biological warfare. For example we could allow a thought such as ‘people are only worth talking to if they are young, beautiful, rich, powerful and/or can do something to help me get ahead’. It is likely a self-critical mind that thinks the person is not enough by themself and therefore needs this help in life to be happy. But that mindset causes you to judge everyone to see if they met those criteria and start looking for flaws intead of qualities. You become very critical. You overlook all the great qualities that human beings have!! We want to love, be loved, contribute, be heard and do good. All of us. There are so many words to describe human qualities such as the usual – smart, funny and beautiful and others such as quirky, patient, brilliant, mysterious etc etc. I think each of us would not have come into existence if we didn’t have something going for us. We would have been bred out millions of years ago. So which qualities are you choosing to see? Are you criticising others in order to compare yourself and make you feel better, because you have already done a hatchet job on yourself?
Now I am digressing. I feel I haven’t really gotten to the crux of this quote and what it really means to me. You might think you are criticising someone because they are ‘mean’ or have ‘dressed badly’ or whatever. You might think it is totally their fault, they are wrong, you are right, end of story and that you therefore have the right to criticise them. But it is always a two way street. On closer inspection you may have misunderstood them aand they weren’t in fact being mean. And by whose rules have you determined mean? Your own, so there is some resonsibility of your own here. And the dressing badly – who is to say what good taste really is? By what rules is it dressing badly? Do the people in other cultures dress badly because they dress differently to us? I don’t believe so. And nor does the person in your street. Might you say they have dressed badly because this colour doesn’t go with that colour and the current fashion is for that? How we all see colour is probably as different as we are unique and open to interpretation. It is known that some are colourblind and I am quite sure that even if we relly did see blues, greens etc the same, for some people the colours are probably brighter or paler or more intense. Bodies are subject to decay so I sure it changes over time? What I am trying to say is that it is good to examine any criticism you make, in your head or out loud and decide if it really is important to think that way. Adjust your filter of what you interpret and banish the criticism.
Our friends don’t like to disagree with us so it takes guts to try to suggest to your critical friend that their thinking and complaining doesn’t serve them ultimately. It takes trust on both sides to be able to do that; to tell the critical person not that they are wrong but that life would be more enjoyable for them if they could change their thinking.
I once read that we criticise most the thing that we do ourselves, which is really in line with this quote. So for example I am pretty careful with money and spend it according to my values, not according to social rules so much. If I want to have water in a restaurant instead of wine because water is good for me and wine is expensive and just makes me dizzy, I will not worry that the other diners think I am being cheap. I find the ones that call me a ‘miser’ or ‘cheap’ are the ones who spend their money carefully also. But they might value wine and forget that I may not. Perhaps they have their own little battle with spending money because they too are not great earners and fear there will not always be more where that came from. They carefully question their motives for every purchase to see the value of what is going to be obtained.
By focusing on things (and so often we focus on our own problems and lives because that is what we know) we become aware of what we deem our own weaknesses. We sadly judge and often criticise ourselves. And if we are super hard taskmasters and criticise ourselves for every little thing – too fat, cheap, loud, awkward, introverted, impatient etc etc then we are likely to judge the rest of the world along those lines also. Live and let live has a lot to be said for! To ‘live’ means to allow yourself to live, without self criticism and to ‘let live’ is to grant others the same. How much emptier would your head be (and free to be creative and productive and bring new, more exciting things into your life) if you could empty your mind of such critical thinking. Abandon criticism in any shape where you see it forming. Stop criticising yourself for everything and allow others the same freedom not to be judged. Others may not even know that you are criticising them so it doesn’t bother them. Even if they do hear it, your message may not match with their own internal message so they will hopefully discount it immediately and continue, free of self censure. The more enlightened will realise that ‘I’m OK, You’re OK’ (a great book I mean to read) and ignore your criticism except to feel sad that your head is full of such thoughts; that you have wasted time focusing on it. If they are less enlightened and do react, they will likely defend themselves and give you a dose of criticism back. Lose lose.
So how do I sum up my thoughts on this quote? I believe it is true. Actually I will rephrase that. It is true for me, in my own little world, the world I have created in my head and by which I navigate life. To criticise another comes from a judgmental, critical mind in the first place and if you are that type of person you will be self-critical. Because we are human we will sometimes fail our own tests and the unhealthy mind will turn on itself, leading to some kind of upset or even despair and depression. The non critical person has a healthier mind and has accepted that they are human and that it is OK to make mistakes, real or perceived. They will therefore be far less critical of others. There is definitely a link. We get crabby and critical when we feel under threat and insecure. So for me, I will keep tending my imaginative garden and do my best to prevent the weeds from growing.