On Criticism

By John "Birdman" Bryant


Whenever I criticize people (which I often do), the reaction is typically total silence, generally implying that I am right, but that in being right I have committed the unpardonable sin of ripping out their souls and trampling on them. Usually I never hear from such people again, among whom I number long-time friends and family members. (At this point, some people would ask, Why can't you learn to practice a little shuddup? The answer, of course, is that Nature gave me a Big Mouth, and, like the sexual urge in man, or the shopping urge in women, it Cannot Be Denied.)

For the few people I criticize who do not give me the silent treatment, the large majority attempt to hit back at me, often with considerable emotional froth. The result is usually that they make themselves look like asses and fools because of their emotional reaction, thereby making themselves even more vulnerable to criticism and hurt. After an exchange or two with such people, the result is usually the same as with the first group -- dead silence and -- presumably -- total emotional prostration.

There is, however, a third group. These folks -- if not actually welcoming the criticism -- nevertheless have -- somehow! -- learned to take it in stride. They know that I am just a big ole fuzzy bear who wouldn't hurt a flea (scratch, scratch) and -- like a Tourette's Syndrome sufferer or some freak in a mental institution -- am someone who simply can't keep from doing what he is doing, and that his words, tho full of sound and fury, signify nothing in particular except perhaps a bad case of indigestion or a failure to get his daily dose of pussyhole (isn't that really the root of all evil?).

Or then again, maybe what these folks know is that everybody needs criticism -- it's the only way we can discover how wrong we have gone, and most of us have gone WAAAAAY wrong. Which means that those who can take the heat will end up miles ahead of everybody else, because criticism will allow them to fix their miserable, broken-down lives, get themselves back on track, and take off into the wild blue yonder (how's that for a mixed-up metaphor?) while everybody else just stands there with their jaws open and their knuckles dragging.

The fundamental reason for most people's catatonic reaction to criticism is not, as might be expected, poor self-image -- indeed, most people's self-image is far too good, and that is precisely what gets them into trouble -- when their self-delusions of grandeur come up against reality, they totally freak out. Instead, the problem is people's unaccustomedness to dealing with what might be called the ugly truth. More particularly, they have not heeded the Socratic imperative to 'Know thyself', with the result that their faults and foibles are a sort of terra incognito, and when someone like Yours Truly comes along and points out a couple of the prominent landmarks, they go berserkers. As a philosopher, my whole professional life (such as it is) has been devoted to dealing with this Great Unknown: As my altered ego JBR Yant once said (Mortal Words v 1), "There is nothing so beautiful to a philosopher as the ugly truth." So it is no wonder that I can thrive and grow in the barrels of toxic waste dumped on me by my enemies -- I already know what an asshole I am, and nothing my enemies say is going to put a crimp in my composure.

Personally, I delight in criticism. Not only does it help me to correct my own stupidities (of which there are plenty and then some, I can assure you!), but it reinforces me by letting me know that there is, after all, somebody out there who cares enuf about me to take his valuable time to give me a little attention. (Hey -- it's a lot better than being ignored!) In fact, if there is any one thing above all others to which I attribute my modest success in life, it is my ability not merely to take criticism, but to seek it out and act on it.

So now I'll just unsheath my sword -- uh, I mean pen -- and give you a little taste of all the advantages you've been missing, heh, heh, heh ...


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