A few years ago a colleague and I were attending a workshop in Toronto and in the course of the conversation the subject of criticism came up. The question asked was, “How do you see criticism in terms of an inside-out reality? How do you not take it personally?”
As we discussed the concept of impersonal thinking it became clear that our response to criticism was no different than our response to any other life event — it was dependent on our state of mind or our perception at the time. If we were experiencing thoughts of insecurity we would seem to be more vulnerable to what other people thought. In comparison, if we were in a state of well-being we wouldn’t be affected by another’s opinion.
A discussion ensued about the choices we have, and how our perception changes from moment to moment. It’s easy to see, as we observe both our own behaviour, and that of those around us, that our responses vary. One day we may feel upset, even enraged if someone takes “our” parking spot. Another day we are unaffected by such an event, or at least philosophically aware that it’s not worth a second thought.
As it became clearer that we’re truly living an inside-out experience, the mood in the room lightened and the odd chuckle could be heard as people were experiencing insights into their own innocent “personal thinking.” It also became apparent that much of our behaviour, and many of our choices, is the result of our attempts to avoid criticism. We had innocently accepted the idea that criticism was not good.
We had also innocently accepted the false belief that our well-being was dependent on what others thought, or did, or said. Imagine the freedom that we could feel by simply knowing we have the potential to let go of that idea. We can, instead, access our inner barometer that guides us to the balance of calm, wisdom and compassion, to our innate health.
And then another aha moment occurred. If the above is true of criticism, would it not also be true of compliments? If we innocently agree that compliments are good, is our well-being not affected by, or even predicated upon, other people’s approval? Could we now begin to accept that criticism and compliments are simply flip sides of the same coin? That is, they are simply someone else’s opinion or perception, a reflection of their state of mind in that moment.
When we’re able to remain neutral in the face of either a criticism or a compliment we’re then able to maintain our well-being. Criticism and compliments are perhaps the ultimate trap into a false belief that outside-in exists. But guess what? It doesn’t.