Thursday, January 12, 2017

The personal and political implications of criticism

I don't criticize the people in my life. I just don't. I've tried it and it never works. I don't get the response I hope for, and I always felt awful after I criticize someone. So I just focus on keeping my side of the street clean. I only offer suggestions or advice when asked and even when asked, I make no criticism, I just offer positive guidance and problem solving assistance. I understand that when people make mistakes, they often realize what they did long before I can say something about it. I have seen people beat themselves up for their own mistakes, sometimes for days, as their own worst critic. So I remain focused on being the best human I can possibly be.

This article continues a theme I started a few months ago, and that theme is that people would do better if they could. I did a search on my own blog and found the first instance of where started on this trail here, in July of 2015. I have found that there are personal and political implications to this theme and I'd like to explore them with you here.

Years ago, when I was a lost and isolated soul, almost completely bereft of any understanding of people, a kind person directed me to a book. Books are like software and we read books to change the way we think. This book changed me forever: "Getting the Love You Want", by Harville Hendrix.

In that book, I read of a story of an older couple, married for 35 years. They had come to see Mr. Hendrix for marriage counseling. Sitting on the couch together, both were bickering, needling each other, insulting each other and generally carrying on. They said that they had been doing this for 35 years and wanted to stop.

So Hendrix gave them a pen and paper and told them to write a list of ten things they want the other person to do for them without being asked to do it. They spent a few minutes quietly writing their lists. "Now give your list to the other person," he said. They exchanged lists. To paraphrase from memory, "Now go home and plan on doing one of those things for each other every day. You must do one of those things for the other person without prompting by the other person. Just do it and let me know how it goes."

Harville further explains in his book that in the succeeding weeks and months, the couple were transformed into a more peaceful couple. By doing that one thing for the other person everyday, they changed the way they were seeing each other, not with their eyes, but with their hearts. In more or less scientific terms, they modified the response of the part of the brain known as the R-Complex, specifically, the medulla oblongata. Where before that part of the brain was associating the other person with pain, the couple changed the response of the medulla by doing something nice for each other.

Now this didn't solve all their problems, but with a simple thing like that, their lives were transformed for the better. No longer were they caught in the fight or flight response, because once they took the initial stimulus of pain away and replaced it with something nice, they built new neural pathways of association.

Criticism doesn't teach any lessons, it only teaches pain. That is why I don't criticize the people in my life. I strenuously avoid criticizing people in social media as well. I believe that the pain/pleasure response operates subconsciously and that people avoid me if I criticize them in life and in social media. So when I see their posts, I don't rain on their parade. If they post something I disagree with, I move on and make note of it, but I don't drop bombs on their posts. Especially if I know them in real life, like on Facebook. Live and let live, right?

If there is a debate in the comments, I'll partake and offer differing points of view to engage, but mostly, I just read and observe. I keep it civil, too. I don't call people stupid, nuts or what have you. I just try to offer the best evidence I can and state my opinion, mindful of the medulla.

I try to extend this to politics, too. It's very, very difficult to do. Politics is the art of living in a large group of people, each with varying needs. So I try to keep my criticism reserved to politicians. You have to have thick skin to be a politician, so I think they're fair game. But when I have something to say about them, I keep it political not personal. I don't give a damn what they do in private. What I care about is how they represent my voice in government.

I know for myself, that when people criticize me, I have programmed myself not to take it personally and to interpret that as feedback. If I do have any feelings about it, I let the feelings pass and then think about how I want to respond, if at all. I am not perfect, but I've practiced this for a long, long time and it has paid off in peace of mind.

I have hurt myself too many times before to allow myself anymore to act in anger as an older, wiser man. I am empathetic enough to not hurt other people with my words. In civil discourse, and in my blog, I avoid the personal and keep the discussion political. In debates in social media, I do my best to avoid criticizing the other person and focus instead on rebuttals with facts and documentation.

I am mindful that if I act with the intention to hurt someone's feelings, their medulla oblongata is going to respond, sometimes in ways I am not interested in learning about. I try to offer solutions rather than criticism. I try to offer alternatives as suggestions for changing the way things are.

I see the insults hurled at Donald Trump and I am sure that he has thick skin. I am fairly certain that he's in character most of the time for he's an entertainer. I don't see him or anyone else as evil. To me, there is no evil, for the concept of evil is just a supernatural explanation of challenging behavior in adults and perhaps a few kids. There is only confused (what we call "evil") and less confused (what we call "good").

Hurling insults at Donald Trump (or anyone else for that matter) does nothing to help your cause. Depicting Trump as a baby, an idiot, a dunce, or what have you, is a waste of time. Yes, those are criticisms, actually insults, but they are personal insults. Donald Trump is now a politician and he knows how to handle personal insults and criticisms. Anyone who remembers the "small hands" fiasco in the primary debates should know better.

To criticize is to stay in the problem. To notice a shortcoming and to offer a solution or alternative behavior, with empathy, well, we might get somewhere with that.

I notice also that even Bernie Sanders is critical of Trump. But his criticism is not personal, it's political. It doesn't matter to him how smart or dumb Trump may be. What seems to matter to Sanders is whether or not Trump will honor his promises and whether or not Trump will help or hinder the middle class. He really does try to stay on point. I still love Bernie Sanders and wish he were president, but I accept the reality of what we have now and work with it.

As for my political debates in Google+ and on Facebook, with the former being a lot more interesting, I try to always err on the side of peace. I avoid making it personal with anyone and keep it on topic, on point, and keep it political. I will continue to err on the side of peace, to try to set an example of what I think civil discourse looks like. I don't tell other people what to do. I just speak my mind with respect to their medulla.

I practice this art of getting along with everyone I come into contact with. I see this continuum for degrees of engagement and trust, from the political to the social to the deeply personal. I am mindful of the Butterfly Effect, where simple actions that I take now can have much larger effects in the future.

With each passing day I practice this art, the art of living in peace, with hundreds of small actions and decisions. Every action and every decision is focused on the single goal, the prime directive: to err on the side of peace. When I err on the side of peace, I work to maintain the peace in my life. And yours.
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