Letting Go of Criticism

Task 4

Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the same measure you use, it will be measured back to you.  And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me remove the speck out of your eye” and look, a plank is in your own eye?  Hypocrite!  First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.  Matthew 7:1-5 

Therefore you are inexcusable, O person, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.   Romans 2:1

Those who have kindness hardly see any evil in others.  They notice everything good and true in them; and they put a good interpretation on anything evil or false.  All angels are this way, a trait they have from the Lord, who bends everything evil into good.  Arcana Caelestia #1079

It is hard to grow spiritually if your thoughts of other people are harsh and critical.  Put another way, if we want to grow spiritually, we need to let go of criticism.

What if you were suddenly given the power to listen in on the inner dialogue of people.  Imagine having that power, and going into a lunchroom of some office, what would you hear?   “Look at what she’s wearing!”  “I  can’t stand the way he talks about himself so much.”  “That’s the third time she’s worn that dress this week.”  Etc.  Things like that go on in people’s heads all the time.

Now imagine that there was a machine that wrote down your inner dialogue, as you were thinking it.  Can you picture yourself reading through a transcript of your stream of thoughts?  Now take the transcript and highlight all of the thoughts that are critical.  What percentage of your thoughts would be highlighted?  It might be  pretty high.

What would it be like for someone to read a word-for-word document of all of the thoughts as they come into your head?  I think that after a while they would drop the manuscript and say:  “Don’t you ever get bored with your own thoughts? I notice that whenever you see Fred, you mentally say the same critical things about him.  Can’t you think of something else to think?  I would hate to live in your brain.  Your thoughts sound like a broken record.”

As I drive around town I notice billboards.  There is one of them that I can hardly look at without being critical.  I don’t like the art work, and I don’t like the product being sold.  How many times do I have to say in my head, “I don’t like that billboard!”  When I say it, who is that helping, anyway?  Me?  Every time I drive by my mind gets into its criticism:  “Ha! Humph! That billboard again!  Humph! Why don’t they get a new artist?”  You know, that kind of thought pattern is really boring.  The dialogue just goes round and round endlessly and without purpose.  Somehow we have this thought that we are obliged to criticize and if we stopped, the world would go to hell.  Sometimes we feel that it is our duty to criticize people since if we didn’t they would be terrible.  But does our criticism do anybody any good?

If I am talking to someone and put my glasses on crooked, just to be ornery, what would happen?  The person listening to me might find it impossible to look at me.  I could say: “Please don’t think about my glasses.  Think about the things that are right on me, and just ignore my crooked glasses.” That would be really hard for the other person to do. There is something about us that makes us want to say: “Would you please put those things on straight?”  What is the part that’s got to look for flaws and try to correct them?

When I was young, our family raised chickens.  I noticed that if one of the chickens had some kind of flaw the others would peck away at it until it died!  If we wanted to save its life we had to isolate it from the other hens.  Even if one of them had only a few feathers missing and just a little bit of raw skin showing, the other chickens would attack it all day long, and the next day, and keep at it until the imperfect chicken died.   Is this very different from what we humans do to each other?

Sometimes I feel that I can’t let people get away with something, as if our being critical helps the situation.   Are we somehow maintaining integrity in the world by being critical?

Recently I was at an art show.  I went around looking at the paintings, and in my head I was criticizing them.   Then I felt someone standing near me.  For some reason, I began to suspect that this was the artist.  She was!  Finally, she spoke and said:  “Well, what do you think?  Any criticisms?”

I could feel an instant shift in my head.  It was easy to be critical.  It is very challenging to make helpful comments.  My first critical thoughts were coming out of the basement.  I couldn’t stand next to the artist and just say: “Why don’t you try something else, like golf or knitting?”  I couldn’t say: “The painting is all wrong, I wish you hadn’t framed it.”   I had to come from a higher place in myself. Saying something both true and helpful takes effort and attention.  It is very easy to criticize.  There’s nothing to it.  But that easy criticism is usually ill-informed and destructive.   If we really understood what something was like for the other person we wouldn’t be so quick to judge.

So I looked at her painting very carefully, and came up with some suggestions as to how it might be improved.  About an hour later, she returned to the gallery with another painting!  She said:  “Look, your comments were very helpful.  Could you give some suggestions about this painting?  I want to enter it into our Annual Show.”  Again I had to give thoughtful and helpful comments.

Months later I went to the Annual Show, and there was her painting!  As I was looking at it I felt someone standing beside me.  I turned and looked.  It was the artist!  She thanked me for my comments.  We smiled, and admired the painting together.  She had made many improvements, including ones I had suggested.

In the sermon on the mount the Lord says:  Judge not that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1), and “Why do you look at the mote that is in your brother’s eye but do not consider the beam that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3).

A beam is a huge piece of wood, large enough to support a ceiling or roof.  Our own mistakes and shortcomings are like this tremendous log or beam.  If we have not learned to see ourselves and deal with our own defects how can we pick out a tiny speck or mote in our brother’s eye?

A person who has done a lot of spiritual work, might be in a position to help someone else.  Anyone who has done honest and constructive self-criticism could possibly be in a position in which to help someone else by criticism.  I think we can safely assume that, for most of us, that day has not yet come.

There is a place for genuine criticism, but it must come out of love.  Negative criticism comes out of the basement, and is given not to improve the other person but to make ourselves feel superior.  When we criticize, we are looking down on someone else as if we were elevated above them.

There is a story in the Bible about Noah getting drunk and lying naked in his tent.  He had three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth.  Ham went into the tent, saw his father drunk and naked, and went to tell his brothers.   He might have thought that they would be amused.  Instead, they put a blanket over their shoulders and walked backward so that they could cover their father without seeing him in that condition.  That was a very loving and forgiving thing to do.  (Genesis 9:20-27)

If you look at others from an angelic point of view, very lovingly, you will notice the good things, not the bad ones. If you see something bad, you will put the best possible interpretation on it.   If you act out of the basement or the lower self, you focus on the negative and put the worst possible interpretation on anything good!  That’s the difference between those two approaches.

Imagine if you saw someone go into another person’s house, drag them into the alley, tie them up, and beat them mercilessly.  Imagine that the person was absolutely unable to fight back.  Wouldn’t you be horrified?  You would be especially outraged because the victim had no way to defend himself.  Isn’t that what we do with other people in our heads?  We think bad thoughts about them.  We take them down the alley and beat them up in our thoughts, and they don’t even know they’re being beaten up?  How can they defend themselves?

Look at criticism in your life.  You might take one day to observe your critical nature–what you say or think.  Then the next day you could try to let go of all criticism of yourself or others.  This involves, first of all, observing your critical nature in action, and then seeing if you can go through a day without critical thoughts.

Observe your criticisms for a day and record in your journal. Go for a day without criticism. Notice what happens.