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The critical path

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

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A friend and I were talking about criticism. He was saying he thought I had been criticized more than most people he knew. True, I was thinking, and then he added, "But boy, did you know how to dish it out!"

Ouch!

"It was self-defense," I retaliated.

We continued talking about how our lives were progressing, and I said that one of the signs of this progress was that some less pleasant aspects of our characters were falling away.

Obviously I'm not the only one who finds it hard to take an objective look at myself and see what could be improved. It's far more comfortable to justify bad characteristics, as I'd grown accustomed to doing with rationale such as, "It's OK to be critical, because I'm a perfectionist." "I criticize myself more than I criticize others." "If other people did things right, I wouldn't need to criticize them."

I may justify criticism as the pursuit of perfection, and even consider it a virtue, but it can have its downside. One person's perfection can be another's self-opinionated arrogance.

Although I still have a ways to go, a turning point in changing my own critical stance came when I heard someone define criticism as "a public admission of your inability to see good in someone else."

More ouch! But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I put myself in my neighbors' - particularly my co-workers' - shoes. At the time, I was running a fashion business, which relied on creative input from freelancers. If all they heard from me was criticism of their ideas, they heard no encouragement, no praise, and no nurturing. What incentive was there for them to be creative, imaginative, or think out of the box? How could their efforts result in "perfection" if they were shot down at their first public airing?

My criticism, designed as a pursuit of perfection, did nothing but create a threatening environment, an atmosphere of mistrust, resentment, and fear. The fundamental conditions for war, I realized. How helpful to humanity was that, and what sort of perfection was I really pursuing?

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