Thursday, 19 May 2011

A critical view of criticism

Something that feels current, for me anyway, is the topic of criticism. Of parents in particular. I have read about it a lot lately in the blog world and this post inspired me to write a longer piece on the subject.

One of the reasons I find this subject interesting is that I can't really relate to feeling criticised. I am a new mother and I have yet to experience it in relation to my motherhood. When I think outside my mummy-box, I can hardly remember ever being criticised. Now, why is that? It is not because people in my life adore everything I do, nor is it because I have rose-tinted glasses on and don’t perceive when people are being nasty. I would say that my general outlook on life is borderline pessimistic and I sure don't always think the best of people. Nor is it that I conform to the norm, so that there is nothing to be critical about. Still, I don't often feel criticised. I think what happens is that when somebody says something that could be perceived as criticism, I think of it as somebody expressing a different opinion to mine. I don’t take what they say personally or as a reflection on me. I might get pissed off, if what they say is stupid, but I also get angry when I come across animal cruelty and I don’t take that personally.

I think that what people choose to say to others is more a reflection on them than on the person they are speaking to. Furthermore, something that is perceived as criticism, could actually have been sent off as a piece of advice, i.e. the person’s intention was to help, not to criticise. A lot of it comes down to how people express themselves and how people perceive what is being said. It takes two to tango and it is important to remember that just because one felt criticised, doesn’t mean that it was the other person’s intention to criticise.

I’ll give you an example; I had quite a bad experience breastfeeding and I want to tell every mother-to-be about my experience so that they have a better one. Now, I definitely think that some women could perceive my advice as criticism, as it might come across as that I know better than them and that I am telling them what to do. Only because I would be so eager to help them! The point I am trying to make here is that people live in their own universe and they think they are right. People think that what they think is right. End of story. So with my breastfeeding advice, I could easily get carried away and tell pregnant women what to do because I am convinced that it would have an impact on their likelihood of a good breastfeeding experience and I want to help. However, being aware of this tricky situation, I try to be careful how I phrase myself.

In my line of work I have been taught never to give advice unless it is asked for. Sometimes the way people ask for advice is very subtle, so it can be hard to get it right. However, on the internet, in a blog, I would almost say that putting something out there that is even a little bit controversial, is asking for advice or input, which could in turn be perceived as criticism. Of course it doesn’t give people the right to be nasty, but the reality is that we can’t control what other people do or say. We can only control what we ourselves say and do and how we react to other people.

To summarise, I am saying that perhaps most criticisms are meant as advice and people can get carried away giving advice when they feel that they have something important to say. So my advice to people who often feel criticised would be to take a step back and not to take it personally. If one is really feeling on top of things, then perhaps even think of it as a way for the other person to start a conversation about something that is really important to him or her.

Finally, I would like to say that I appreciate all kinds of input on my childrearing (and other things too), because we must have left the baby instruction book in the hospital. I don’t always know what to do with my baby. I don’t feel like I have some inner maternal wisdom that I can tap into. Some things makes sense, others don’t and I will never (hopefully) act against my own sense of right and wrong. But somebody sees me doing something that is not working for me or the baby and they have tried it and have a suggestion, I would love for them to tell me what to do. I always have a choice as to whether I will listen to them or not. And I a choice as to whether I will feel criticised or not.


Vickie said...

Very interesting. I have to say that I have always REALLY cared what other people think of me. I have always taken criticism very personally. I think blogging has helped me to get over that, because I have been able to separate when people are criticizing my "ideas" vs ME personally. Of course, the random internet strangers don't know ME, they only see my ideas. So when I get that kind of criticism, or really any criticism from a stranger, I feel less personally attacked now.

I have also started to see the positive intent in the (even if unsolicited) advice people give. I think there is also a component of validation attempt in some advice. Like, "I did it this way, and if you do it this way, you will make me feel better." Which I cmopletely understand.

I appreciate your diving deeper into this topic. It's one I know I will face quite a bit as I continue to write blogs. I know I will be accused of criticizing others, and I will get my fair share from others as well. It's good to have a different perspective on it. Thanks for sharing!!

Linnéa i Alabama said...

Bra skrivet, jag är som V, jag tar all kritik personligt och tycker att det är riktigt jobbigt med elaka kommentarer på bloggen eller pikar i från svärmor. Urk.

Brave New Life said...

@Vicki; the "I did it this way, and if you do it this way, you will make me feel better"-thing is a big part of advice giving. I mean, come on, how nice isn't when somebody says "I took your advice and it work"? It's a mega egoboost and that can be addictive.
@Linnéa;får du många elaka kommentarer? Tycker att alla verkar så snälla :)