Monday, July 9, 2012
Receiving and Giving ... Criticism!
I, a Virgo by sun sign, know that it is easier to give criticism than to listen to a criticism! To my defense I would say as is said for Virgos, that it is not because we deny our faults (if we do see it! ) but because we already have our own finger so painfully poking at our worst faults that we can’t bear another finger on it.
So let me start with what is more difficult; Receiving Criticism. Accepting that there is a need to change is what is required and is half the battle won. My biggest challenge has been my occasional but volcanic temper (allow me to blame it on paternal inheritance) I saw and accepted it as my biggest fault. I am usually soft and loving but occasionally I am capable of erupting like a volcano, and then the lava becomes beyond my control and it has to exhaust itself. After that blind hour,it’s the huge mess left to clear, the burnt hurt feelings that are piercingly visible after the destruction, that leave me with a lot to reconstruct and a lot to be regretful for long, which brought in again and again a desire to change.
But as long as people still understood, loved and accepted me, I only 'struggled' to control my burst outs quite ‘unsuccessfully’. Some friends would joke on it (when they saw me read book on Anger Management), or call it “Full Power time” (when blinded to “Who” I blew out at). It was only when I was rejected for my temper that I put 'my all' to ‘managing temper' and realized that I could indeed overcome my insurmountable weakness. Managing did not mean I stopped being a critic or that I never lost my temper but it meant I took care to notice the building steam and accepted it to myself and so removed it before it became volcanic and more destructive than intended. That is, I learnt to notice and pour out my emotions at a level where I could manage it calmly, rather than ignoring it till it burst out; shocking me and others.
But in that process I learnt that sometimes rejection can be the greatest incentive to change and that we can even keep ‘rejection’ as a tool in our kitty to use in rare instances (for a short while only of course) where acceptance may have been the spoiler!
Rejection added to criticism is difficult to bear but there are a few things that experience taught me that minimized the sting I feel while at the receiving end of ‘due or undue’ criticism.
1. We can bear to listen to all types of criticism, if …..we don’t have a perfectionistic expectation from ourselves. That is if we can first accept ourselves as we are, and then accept others as they are (not expecting them to know how to criticize constructively)! Once we accept, we don’t feel (and cannot be made to feel) worthless for our faults.
2. We need to accept that perfection is impossible; quite plainly because what is perfect for one maybe imperfect for another! This does not mean we cannot or need not strive to reach our idea of perfection; but rather it means to realize that as individuals we have our limitations of the areas we can achieve perfection in. That is to say, we cannot meet every ones subjective ideas of perfection! (Well, even thinking that is exhausting!) What is important then is sincerity in all we undertake. We can only strive to do our best in whatever is a requirement.
3. We have to realize that perfection can never be a requisite for acceptance. In fact it is the little imperfections that set one apart from another and only a person who is incapable of truly loving, would demand perfection. We often fall in love with a particular character that either compliments who we are or is very like us, or is very like someone in our family and so has a comfort factor. Love is easier to understand if we remember that we develop a love for animals as well! I love dogs, I love cats! What does that mean? It means there is a particular character that we may be drawn to. Strength? You probably love Elephants. Loyalty? You love Dogs. Beauty? The cat family maybe. Energy? Squirell the cute busy body!. On the other hand if it is Smartness? You love intelligent Humans. Goodness? You love empathy in Humans. Perfection? Sadly you can only love God. Because like God, we can only imagine perfection!
But it is true that ‘good’ people are more often looked out for ,as partners. A friend recently told me about how people helped each other selflessly when the earthquake (plus tsunami and nuclear) disaster happened in Japan in March 2011 and wondered if the “civility” was as a result of their high average IQ as compared to other countries or it was their strict adherence to civil attitudes that resulted in comparatively higher IQ in them. (i.e whether “being good” was the cause or the effect of High IQ)
I realized then, why “goodness” is so attractive! Wasn’t civilisation itself the result of superior brain power in man as compared to animals! We instinctively look for the more civil the more “good”.
But it is quite observable that highly intelligent (smart) people can also be highly aggressive and selfish, not very capable of handling emotions and caring for others. So surely High Emotional Quotient (EQ) rather than High Intelligence Quotient (IQ)could be the cause of being a “good” samaritan.
And I also believe EQ can be both the cause and effect of Goodness. That “becoming civil or good” can also result in increasing the EQ. Of course all this is speculation with no tangible proof, but what I am leading to is that ‘a critic is a friend, who can help us develop our emotional quotient.’
What's the benefit of 'the Goodness'!? “Being good” takes us to a higher plane of existence. Personally it can expand our aura to the seventh level. Socially it can take us to a perfectly civil and good world. But from there where?
The whole universe is said to work on the principle of Giving and Receiving,and I really believe that it is indeed the one basic principle! I imagine the play of the universe like a game with many levels(compare with a computer game). Life on Earth is one of the levels with seven levels (or heavens) above (just as we exist in several planes as well). There are many lessons to be learnt on this earth that help to perfect our game plan and escape to the next level. What's the use of winning this game? Each level leads us closer to perfect Bliss! We can expand to the seventh level from the first level. That's about all we can know, but once in the game we just have to play it to the end. There is simply no meaning of getting bored or tired with the game; no meaning to quitting!
Everything we do, all we journey with or meet along our journey are just mutual helpers in the learning. No man can grow much as an island. We all need each other. Whatever lessons our subconscious has been wanting to learn, another may be more equipped to provide us with and so they are the ones we meet in the journey. We may push them away but they stay or keep coming back into our lives till they deliver their lesson; on the other hand after having learnt a lesson, no matter how we try to hold on to someone, they are out of our lives, or become passive in our lives!
I heard somewhere that “those who come into our lives are like postmen who have come to deliver our mail’. We have to respect them as that even if it is a criticism they delivered. True, whatever the content delivered, how can a postman be blamed! We might at worst kill the postman, but in another time or in another lifetime another postman will come to deliver the same message until we learn it. It is always better to take it the first time around.
How? I once asked a friend how he is able to listen so attentively to a particular “boring teacher”. He said, “We only learn as much as we respect another” That was one valuable lesson! Indeed, the lesser our ego and feelings of superiority, the more the lessons we can learn from the other to guide our conduct in life that in turn earns us the higher plane of existence.
Now there can be times when we may have to serve as the postman and deliver a post no matter what; to do the role of delivering criticism! And that brings me to the sermon this Sunday. The topic was that we all have a purpose although we may not fully understand what it is. Some main points were- All of us are in a way prophets and priests; the names we have are god given names which point to our purpose and so we should search the meaning of our names. He further said that the prophet’s duty is of speaking the truth, whether he is listened to or not and no matter that speaking the truth always has severe consequences. John the Baptist (meaning of John is God is Gracious) was beheaded when he spoke the truth. That's often the price of speaking the truth. The priest continued saying that Prophets are also very human, they had their failings and weaknesses that they had to struggle with. St. Paul asked God three times to remove a particular weakness but it did not happen. When he realized he had to live with that weakness he said, "For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).The Priest explained it to mean that in our weakness, we rely entirely on the strength of God.
We all have our failings that we struggle with and which come in the way of our purposes. Sometimes our purpose is delivering a post against our weakness, say a weakness for love (I am definitely not going to be loved for this “dirty Job”of criticising!), despite lack of trust in its usefulness (it’s only going to spoil it for me and do them no good either!), despite fear of the consequences (wonder where I will end this time!). Indeed, when we do a deed because it has to be done in spite of all our weaknesses pulling us down, that is when we would have shown strength!
I have known that bitter truth, no matter how lovingly, tactfully and calmly presented will not fully lose its bitterness and bite and hence possibilities of a kick back! But then I also know that a critic, a teacher can only extend his hand full of the wealth of wisdom; whether the lesson is taken from the hand or whether the hand is spit upon depends entirely on the student; depending on whether the student can recognize it as wealth or only see it as filth.
I am reminded of something Jesus had said: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.’ John 15;20. It is really ignorance to be bothered about the result when we have to be the postman, because our first allegiance is towards our creator who assigns us a job and only after that to our own analytical mind that can never fully comprehend God’s ways. It is also ignorance to be bothered when we are ‘shown our place’ because how we are treated tells “not where we stand but rather where the receiver stands in terms of spiritual development”. No matter if we are not listened to, are insulted, rejected, hurt or even killed, we have to remember that there are no purposes in life greater than delivering what has been assigned (when it is our turn to deliver) and receiving as meekly as is possible for us (when it is our turn to receive).