What's your response? Is it an instant, "Who are you? Who gave you any right to have an opinion on how I live?" accompanied by writing off the criticism, and maybe even the person, as without worth?
I believe that this is an inappropriate response. Why, as a society, have we come to the point where saying something like, "You're a strong and inspiring person and you have great hair" elicits a "Thank you!!!" followed by a dozen smiley face emojis, but a "You're not doing so hot in this department." receives a "How dare you? You can't judge me!"
How did "judging" become so taboo? Most of what is labeled judging in common conversation is simply that, making mental judgments about the quality or lack of quality in a certain area of someone's life. A compliment is also, technically, a value judgment, because it's a positive result of our mental assessment of someone's outfit, job performance, or other personal trait.
Positive judgments are always welcome, whether asked for or not, but very few seem willing to listen to negative judgments, no matter how warranted.
I firmly believe that the blanket decision to write off all criticism as inappropriate judging is only going to hurt you in the long run. Refusal to listen to unpleasant-sounding life advice just means that you're throwing out the good advice along with the bad.
I'm not claiming that being criticized is fun. It's something that our very soul revolts against--but if we're wise, we'll take our time when responding to criticism, and in some circumstances, we might find the initial, "How dare you tell me how to live my own life! I'll make my own mistakes, thank you very much!" may turn into, "Wow. Thanks for caring about my future enough to tell me the truth, even though it was uncomfortable for both of us."
I've received some negative judgments in my day--here are a few of the less personal examples that I can share with the world: When I was a teenager, I was frequently told, "You would be much prettier if you didn't have such short hair." I gradually started growing out my hair and experimenting with longer lengths.
They were right. I didn't want to have long hair, and enjoyed my no-effort boyish haircut very much at the time, but there's no question in my mind, looking back, their opinion that longer hair would be more flattering was 100% correct.
In more recent times, I've been told that I dress immodestly. My instant reaction could have been, "Why should I care what you think?"--but instead, I chose to examine the issue of modesty from different angles, and was able to realize that the culture I was raised in strongly impacted what styles I was comfortable wearing, but the culture I had moved to had very different standards regarding appropriate dress. I didn't end up drastically changing my general dressing habits, but understanding the cross-cultural situation I was dealing with helped me learn how to preserve relationships and respect in the face of differing opinions.
Once, I was told that I should remove a curse word from a blog post. I wanted to fight back, I wanted to stand up for journalistic freedom and state my case--that I pretty much never curse, that that particular curse word was witty and perfect right in that location, that I didn't want to remove it. Stating my reasons for including the curse word opened up a dialogue, and my "judger" was able to give me her reasons for suggesting that I remove the word, pointing out my motivation for that particular blog post to reach a wide audience, and that by including the curse word, I was potentially alienating a large sub-segment of the non-cursing population, and causing them to be unable to appreciate the larger message of my post because they were too distracted by the silly little curse. I may believe that people shouldn't discount the truth of a work of literature because of a rare curse, but I also agree that this is indeed what happens in the real world--I ended up taking the curse word out.
Now, in all of these situations, it would have been easy to hear what they said, and translate it into my mind as You're ugly. You dress like a harlot. Your blog is vulgar and crude. Let me assure you, my mind is just as dramatic as anyone else's. It would have been easy to just cry to Angel that people are being mean to me, tell them "YOU DON'T KNOW MY LIFE!", then suck it up, ignore them, and go about my merry way, not taking into account anyone who critiqued me. But instead, I chose the more difficult route of examining whether it was possible that their negative judgment had any element of truth in it, and taking action based on the results.
I'm not claiming that all judgment is accurate--but far more of it is accurate than we tend to believe. Here are a few warning signs alerting you to when you should really be sure to stop and pay attention to the criticism you're facing:
1. The criticism is coming from someone you respect or have a long-standing relationship with.
2. The person judging you is someone who 'practices what they preach'--their life shows the good results of following their own advice.
3. The person criticizing you shares the same value system that you do.
4. You've heard criticism on exactly the same area of your life from multiple different people.
One thing I've always admired about my husband is how teachable he is. Most of the time, he does take each criticism and judgment handed to him, cautiously examines it, and applies it to his life when it's needed. He's also fond of saying, "Let's bring judging back!" as his way of affirming the usefulness of being criticized.
One evening we were going to sleep, and Angel was reflecting on how he wasn't impressed with his own behavior that day. He said, "I feel like such a bad person."
I said, "You are."
His response? To start laughing and say, "I'm so glad I married you! What other wife would say such a thing?"
My 2-word sentence of advice in that moment came from a position of a long-standing relationship (Point #1) and from our shared value system in which we believe in the fundamental depravity of humanity (Point #3). He said later that he was expecting my response to be something along the lines of, "You're not so bad, you're in a tough situation and I know you're trying to do the right thing!"--but he found my truthful, and admittedly negative, response to be actually more useful.
Right now, Angel and I are in the position of being oldest siblings and cousins to a large population of teenagers getting ready for college. We have the relationship and we have the experience behind us of graduating from college successfully and without crippling debt. We are tireless in our advice-giving: Don't start college if you think there's a strong chance you won't be able to finish--instead, consider a trade school or another, non-college option. Getting a degree in something interesting that you won't be able to get a job in is stupid. Don't take on debt without a foolproof plan for paying it off. Don't get into debt in the first place for an obviously low-paying career. Consider community colleges.
Such advice could be considered nosy and needless. It could be construed as "judging" by passionate young teens who just want to get $120,000 B.A.'s in Philosophy. These young people we love so very much have the option to totally ignore our advice, or take it, and whether they do take it or not probably depends on whether they share our no-debt value system. In the end, whether or not they listen, we've given them a wider opportunity by simply by saying the unpleasant truth that if you go to college for the fun experience, you're setting yourself up for a financially frustrating future.
Decide right now not to write off any and all negative comments wholesale. Keep in mind the 4 points I mentioned above, but also be aware that it's possible, though less likely, to get legitimate, actionable criticism from a source and situation that doesn't match any of the criteria.
I'm not perfect. I need input into my life. I desperately need people to love me enough to say "You messed up" and "I don't think that's a good decision for you." And so do you.