It’s easy to be a critic
I once sat next to a bunch of ladies at a restaurant, in which during my entire meal, all I’ve heard was criticism about the place. From how it was so dirty to how the food was subpar. They just sat for an hour complaining instead of leaving. I sat with fascination wondering why some people would rather endure such situations with the awareness of disliking something rather than ending their “torment”. It’s not like I haven’t the phrase “ I could make this so much better at home”, but they did teach me that all the criticism in the world doesn’t change your situation if you don’t act upon it.
Empty criticism vs productive criticism
Here’s one of my favorite quotes about a critic:
In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.
I look at criticism going two routes: empty and productive criticism. Many of the criticism we’ll encounter will be empty. My definition of empty criticism is when someone complains about a situation/person/thing, but does absolutely nothing to help or make it better. This kind of criticism is the easiest and most useless “feedback” to get. Everyone does it because it’s an easy way for us to express our frustration. It’s a band-aid solution but because of the intention that follows (inaction), all it really does is escalate our emotions and make us waste energy and time. I think about the many times I’ve driven behind a slow person. You can fill in the blanks for what was said but the point is what’s all the complaining good for if you just stay in the same lane as that person. What’s more important is that by complaining so much, I forgot to do the most simple thing, change lanes.
Productive criticism is identifying the source of your complaint and then taking the necessary action to fix it or make it better. It can be as simple as labeling a trash bin and a towel bin so people don’t throw everything together at a gym or as complex as designing an underground tunnel because of the terrible traffic like Elon Musk. This route can be as difficult and complex as it needs to be but it can be as simple as choosing to do something about it instead of sitting there. Back to the restaurant example, it would have done everyone a favor if the ladies just got up and left, but instead, they’re left to brew in their own pit of complaining misery while dragging everyone else into it.
Maximize your criticism
I’m an advocate for productive criticism over empty criticism on any given day. In fact, I’d argue that by taking this route every time, we train ourselves to find solutions to problems. There will always be people complaining, but not enough people actively attempting to make it better. A question I’ve often asked myself is what’s the core issue that needs to be solved? If I know what’s the most important thing that needs to be addressed, it’ll be easy to fix the problem. This proactive approach serves me well in both saving energy and not succumbing to emotions or reckless behavior. I find that if I look a little bit deeper, I gain an understanding of why things are the way they are. Back to the restaurant example, I also noticed that the food didn’t usually taste as good as it usually did. I asked the owner if there was a change in a recipe or if they were trying something new1. He mentioned there was a shipping problem so he couldn’t get all of the supplies he needed to make it like he usually does. It made sense now and my dinner went on normally and instead of grumbling, I enjoyed the rest of my night. Granted the owner should’ve communicated that to his patrons, but if you get used to the productive criticism mindset, this extra step is worth the effort.
Another possible way to maximize your criticism is to look at yourself and see what behaviors, actions, and choices to criticize. Then go through the process of figuring out what core things to change and then slowly implement those changes. This I find to be challenging because we’ll tend to justify each behavior and then use external factors to reason why we shouldn’t change it (i.e. no time due to work, not enough time in the day, I’ll wait until the weekend). I struggled with this when it comes to social media usage at night. I should be reading or finding ways to improve in areas of interest, perhaps even doing more of these exercises to see my weak links, but I get “trapped” in switching through the same three social media applications. After thinking about it, I’ve deduced that if I see my phone, I will pick it up and use it. I’ve started to hide my phone so it’s not easily accessible by reach or sight, and I’ve found success with that method.
I’m not saying you’ll get success every time with this method, but just the act of reframing your thinking and the way you think about a problem is a step in the right direction. In the beginning, it’ll be hard to catch yourself in the middle of criticism, but as you develop this skill, it becomes to not complain and focus all of your energy on solving.
There is a caveat in complaining because it identifies that there is something wrong with the status quo. If we don’t complain, then we won’t find out what needs to be fixed. There isn’t a magic formula, so if you need to spend as much time complaining as solving, then please do so. Just make sure you do something other than just saying words. The question starts with “why is this happening to me” then turns to “Is there a reason this is happening to me”.
Have a great week,
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1 I had a relationship with the owner due to eating here a few times, and we’ve spoken before if I had any feedback, it would be greatly appreciated.