Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #44 – On Criticism II

November 2nd, 2020

I received a lot of feedback on my previous post about criticism. Obviously, it was a relevant post to many. According to Bhagavad-gītā, we are born here overcome with the dualities of desire and hate. If that’s our basic material nature, it shouldn’t be difficult to understand why we all struggle with the problem of being over-critical. After all, the propensity to criticize is specifically born of those dualities. That being said, the question still remains: What constitutes constructive criticism, and when do we overstep that line?

 

Before defining that line, I think it is necessary to understand more deeply what criticism is, and why it should be avoided. Criticism is when envy, born of desire and hate, is expressed. It is therefore against the very foundation of yoga, which is ahimsa or non-violence. Here’s why:

 

The shadow of resentment keeps our spiritual light from shining through, never allowing us to fully experience who we are.[1]

 

Now, how do we reconcile that with the obvious need and duty to correct the mistakes of others and expose injustice? Those on the spiritual path can criticize when it is our duty to correct, when we are in position to achieve a constructive result, and if it is done with compassion, not hate.

 

For example, in the Bhagavad-gītā, the first thing Krishna says to Arjuna is, “You are a pretender and a fool, for the wise man laments neither for the living nor the dead.”[2] Krishna is taking the role of a teacher who must correct the student in a way to help the student overcome ignorance and transcend the ego. Krishna’s criticism is the right thing to do. It is His duty to correct Arjuna, who will accept His correction as His student. Most importantly, Krishna is criticizing Arjuna out of genuine affection for His devotee and friend.

 

In other words, it is not enough of a reason to criticize another simply because they have made a mistake. We have to be vigilant that our criticism is not just an excuse to enjoy a sense of superiority or that it comes from a feeling of hate. Such intentions create a cloud of ignorance that covers the soul. If we are somewhat introspective, we will realize that our criticism of others usually says more about ourselves than it does about anyone else. At least that has been my own experience.

 

I once did an exercise called “A Complaint Free World”.[3] The exercise dictates keeping a band on one’s wrist and moving it to the other wrist every time one criticizes someone. The exercise promises that if one can avoid criticism completely by keeping the band on one wrist without ever changing for it three weeks, the habit of avoiding unnecessary criticism will be established.[4] It was tough. Every time I wanted to criticize someone, I immediately became not only aware that I was doing something wrong, but I could see how much my desire was very rarely a product of duty, but mostly a selfish desire to satisfy ego and superiority.

 

The role of the critic, however, has its proper function, for unless there are people who can point out and correct the faults of others, individual or societal development will be stunted. But, again, it is only effective for those who have the duty to point out another’s faults and, most importantly, the character and compassion to do so. William Penn said it best:

 

“They have a Right to censure, that have a Heart to help: The rest is Cruelty, not Justice.”[5]

 

 

 


[1] I don’t have a reference for this, but I can attest it is anonymous.

[2] Bg 2.11

[3] https://www.willbowen.com/complaintfree/

[4] I discussed why this exercise actually works in terms of yoga psychology in my article “Yoga Psychology”: https://wavesofdevotion.com/essays/yoga-psychology/

[5] I am not a literary scholar. When I need a quote for my article, I just google the topic. Even then it is often difficult to find the right quote. On this relevant topic I found so many gems of wisdom. I will share them here beginning with two quotes supporting the critic, although the vast majority of quotes on this subject seem to oppose criticism acknowledging what a stumbling block that habit is to moral and spiritual development.

 

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to the development of an unhealthy state of things. If it is heeded in time, danger may be averted; if it is suppressed, a fatal distemper may develop.” [New Statesman interview, 7 January 1939]”
― Winston Churchill

 

“The proper function of the critic is to save the tale from the artist who created it.” ― D.H. Lawrence

 

 “The motive behind criticism often determines its validity. Those who care criticize where necessary. Those who envy criticize the moment they think that they have found a weak spot.” ― Criss Jami, Killosophy

 

“Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.” ― Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

 

Criticism of others is thus an oblique form of self-commendation. We think we make the picture hang straight on our wall by telling our neighbors that all his pictures are crooked.” ― Fulton J. Sheen, Seven Words of Jesus and Mary: Lessons from Cana and Calvary

 

“Be warned: A person content to sit with you and criticize others will speak critically of you out of earshot.” – Richelle E. Goodrich, Smile Anyway: Quotes, Verse, and Grumbling for Every Day of the Year.

 

“Don’t criticize them; they are just what we would be under similar circumstances.” ― Abraham Lincoln

 

“I’ve been all over the world and I’ve never seen a statue of a critic.” ― Leonard Bernstein

 

 “A critic is a legless man who teaches other people to run” Channing Pollock

 

“One does not have the right to criticize until he can do the same work without being criticized” ― Dr. Amit Abraham

 

“Some people have never received compassion, only criticism. That is why criticism is all they have to hand out.” ― Richelle E. Goodrich, Being Bold: Quotes, Poetry, & Motivations for Every Day of the Year

 

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