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Everyone’s a Critic

Tom Welsh

WE RECEIVE A LOT of criticism over our adult life, most of which we ignore. Are we being defensive and stubborn—or is something else going on?

Criticism implies we should change our behavior in some way, but sometimes that change comes with costs that outweigh the benefits. Consider the three main forms of criticism:

Manipulative criticism. This is perhaps the most prevalent form of criticism. The goal is to promote a change in our behavior, often costing us time or money, while the criticizer stands to benefit from the promoted change.

Manipulative criticism can come at us from many directions. Check out the subtle criticism often implied in advertisements that goad us to buy or invest. Be alert to “M&Ms”—claims that mankind or Mother Earth will benefit from our sacrifice, even if there’s no tangible benefit to us individually. Warning: It’s been rumored that even spouses may engage in manipulative criticism.

Jealous criticism. “I know they’re rich but they’re probably not happy.” “He got lucky.” “She didn’t play fair.” And what about all the “evil traits” of those who occupy the top 1% in wealth? It’s a funny thing, but jealous criticism always seems to target people who have more money or have enjoyed greater success than the criticizer.

Constructive criticism. There is indeed beneficial criticism, though it’s less prevalent than other forms. Criticism designed to help us usually comes from someone who likes us and expects no personal reward, and it may lead us to be healthier, wealthier and happier.

My advice: Before we ignore or act on criticism, consider the motives involved.

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