So what had happened was I received some criticism at work. A colleague in a joking but not really joking, you know I love you but maybe I don't love you and I'm just passive aggressive way, called me lazy. And they remained loyal to the judgement even when I graciously refuted the accusation and gave them an opportunity to recant it. I carried the criticism around all day and tried repeatedly to find subtle and not so subtle ways for others to invalidate the claim. I went to bed furious. Not so much with the colleague but with my reaction to him. I thought I was totally 'got my big girl pants on' cool with criticism but it seems only with criticism I am expecting or have acknowledged. There was a whole underworld of other criticisms I had no idea about! So my mission this week was to unearth them. Welcome to my week of judgement.
MY FRIEND The first person I ask is my dear friend Adele. Being Italian I think she might be more outspoken than my British pals. I mean the girl sends food back in restaurants! As we stroll along the seafront on a not quite summer's evening, I hijack her.
ME: I need you to tell me how I can be better
ME: I need you to tell me what I could do better. For my blog.
ADELE: You want me to tell you how to make your blog better?
ME: No. I'm writing about criticism. I want you to offer me constructive criticism. Actually it doesn't have to be constructive.
ADELE: Why would I want to do that you're one of my favourite people?
ME: So you don't want to tell me anything? You have a free pass.
ADELE: No. Why? I don't understand.
LESSON: People really don't like criticising others. Especially if they know you're gonna write about it on the Internet.
MY BROTHER My younger brother is pretty outspoken. I mean he doesn't volunteer a great many opinions (unless regarding Arsenal or obscure hip hop) but he will give a straight answer to a direct question. I think it's because he's a scientist. Science, from the little I've experienced of it, doesn't leave a lot of room for faffery or squiding of the truth. I ask him by text as I think that this may make it less confrontational. I message him 'Please offer me criticism'. After an anxiety inducing amount of time he messages me back 'dunno ur fine'. After a bit more time he offers me the following:
You don't have a TV, that's pretty sh*t
You like Subway
You don't love South London enough
You don't watch Empire
A solid list but not one consisting of anything that has given me cause for concern recently.
LESSON: Remember that people will criticise you based on their own values
MY MOTHER I call my mother and ask her how I could be a better daughter. I figure if I make my question more specific it seems a bit less creepy. My mum tells me I'm a 'wonderful daughter' and don't have to change anything. This is getting ridiculous, I mean criticising me is one of my mother's favourite pastimes. I tell her it's really important that she thinks of something. She says, 'You need to tell me what's on your mind more. You hold too much back. I think you're worried about upsetting me or getting into an argument but maybe we should have a barney from time to time.' Well smack me round the face with a plastic chicken! I legit thought she was going to bring up the fact that I NEVER dust my skirting.
LESSON: Criticism can be surprisingly uplifting.
MY SON I felt a little sad that the person whose opinion I wanted the most didn't have the words to offer me any criticism. Then when we were supposed to be taking a stroll to the local pet shop to visit the rabbits, Roscoe throws himself on the pavement and resists all attempts to move him away from the house. He can offer me his opinion! And his opinion is he doesn't want to see the pesky rabbits. So we don't. He also doesn't want to eat his pasta or wear socks or brush his teeth. Actually there is quite a lot he has to criticise...
LESSON: If you are open to criticism, you will find it.
MY WORK: I'm a support worker and currently I work with teenagers living in residential care. I ask one of them how I can be a better mentor to her. Her eyes widen with delight and she chews the inside of her cheek as she assesses me, 'You don't buy me cigarettes,' she says.
LESSON: You do not have to accept other people's criticism.
MY GRANDMOTHER I go to visit my grandmother who has recently turned 90. I don't know if it is an age thing or a thing specific to her but she seems so content in her sunny London flat, with her crosswords and her horse racing. When I ask her for criticism I'm sure she'll laugh or tell me that life is too short to worry about such things but she says, 'Everyone else remembered I was 90, even Martha.'* I remind her that I did remember but I was working on her birthday, 'That's no excuse,' she says.
LESSON: If you want honest criticism ask a 90 year old.
So my week was no way near as scary as I had anticipated. I think my biggest takeaway was that people are far too busy worrying about themselves to spend much time assessing your faults. People generally regard themselves as the bride of the metaphorical wedding of their life and you are just a guest, often a last minute, second rate guest at that. As long as you don't get too drunk or snog anyone inappropriate, you can pretty much coast. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't bother being kind or generous or supportive, it just means when you forget or don't have the energy, accept it and don't criticise yourself. No one else will.
*Martha is my cousin. She doesn't have a reputation for being forgetful, actually she's pretty reliable, so I'm not sure why she was singled out. My grandma has twenty odd grandchildren and I suspect she just picked a name at random.
JOIN MISSION ACCEPTANCE