Criticism comes easily to me. I have judgmental tendencies. It’s one of my vices—one of my uglier qualities. Usually, when I judge (and then criticize) it’s because I’m writing someone else’s story rather than learning his/her reality. Perhaps it’s human nature. Perhaps it’s just my nature. I use appearances to fill in the blanks. But appearances are just that—they are how things seem. Quite often how things appear is very different from the truth that lies beneath.
In confronting my criticism, I usually find that it’s come out of either ignorance or insecurity. It’s when I’m least happy with myself that I’m most regularly guilty of judging and criticizing. I project my own insecurities and ideas onto other people. For example, when I’m feeling unhappy with my own body, I start to pay more attention to the bodies of others. I see someone who is thin and I make assumptions. I see someone who is heavy—perhaps eating a large dessert—and I judge. But the truth is I don’t know the truth. I don’t have the full story. Not all overweight people are gluttonous or lazy. Not all skinny people are disciplined or healthy. It is unfair of me to use someone’s exterior to define and/or criticize that person’s interior. It’s not my job to judge or make assumptions. It is my job to become comfortable with myself and my choices. That leaves me freer to accept how others choose to live. It prompts me to ask instead of assuming, and to wonder instead of judging.
I have to regularly remind myself that not everyone sees or experiences the world the way I do—and that what is right for me isn’t necessarily right for everyone. This was illustrated for me in a powerful way just the other day. Two people were asked to stand back to back and describe what they could see. Each participant, although standing as close as humanely possible to the other person, had a completely different view. Too often I forget how well this illustrates much of life. You and I can grow up in the same family, neighborhood, country, or era and experience all of it differently because we are two different people with two different perspectives, personalities, and predispositions. What you find thrilling, I might find frightening. What you experience as a freedom, I might experience as confining. Where you see risk, I might see opportunity. Looking at the same words, one of us might see an insult while the other sees something complimentary.
I get in trouble with criticism and judgment when I forget that everyone is doing the best he/she can with the resources (physical, emotional, financial, et cetera) he/she has. If I don’t understand another person’s actions, it’s probably because I haven’t tried to understand that person’s perspective.
I do believe that some things are right and some things are wrong. But I believe more things are right for some and wrong for others. There is a big difference between right or wrong for me and right or wrong as absolutes. It’s important that I assign those designations with extreme caution—and remain flexible when I do.
As a Christian, I am called to love—not to judge. It’s not my job to police humanity—to expect others to act, feel, or live the way I do (or would in their position). If you asked one thousand people to draw a flower, you’d get all sorts of varieties and colors. That’s what criticism often forgets, that diversity is natural and different doesn’t mean wrong.
“The only thing that counts is
faith expressing itself through love.”
~ Galatians 5:6b
Note to the reader:
This is a slightly different version of a piece I originally wrote for The Body Is Not an Apology.