Responding to Criticism

If you have not yet read Toko-pa Turner’s Belonging, or found your way to her blog, you need to find some quiet time to get there today. I follow her on Facebook, and find that I am often moved and inspired by her writings. This morning, I reread her post from last year, about criticism.

Criticism is essential to our being shaped as creative individuals. Given respectfully, criticism can be one of the most precious gifts in the world. But there are those critics who talk just be contrary, or to parade their own virtue.

Learning to differentiate between cheap and meaningful criticism is a huge part of becoming resilient. You can tell the difference between a critic who is an ally, and one who is a frustrated creative themselves, by how thoughtfully they deliver their reflections. An ally-critic will take as much care in offering you their reflections as you did in creating your offering.

If what they say resonates for you, even in an uncomfortable way, it’s meaningful criticism. Criticism like this will help shape you into a better writer, a better artist, a better person. But if it’s delivered with poison or shame, and doesn’t connect with some similar part of yourself, then it isn’t worth giving your energy to.

Just because the voice of your critics is loud, doesn’t mean it’s valuable. But how do you not let a cheap criticism get under your skin? In a way, you don’t have to. Even cheap criticism can serve you in that it forces you to articulate, even for yourself, what you stand for.

Resilience involves trusting in the goodness of your intention. There is a vibratory signature on everything we create, and this signature will be recognized by anyone who is on the same wavelength as you.

None of us are perfect, but if you are trying your best and putting your imperfect thing into the world, you are already defying the odds.

So be willing to be seen, that others who need what you’re bringing will be emboldened to also give their gifts. You won’t die from criticism. Either it will shape you into a better version of yourself, or give you an opportunity to pivot towards what you really value.

By Toko-pa Turner (toko-pa.com)

In recent weeks, I have been gnawing at a particular critical package that was dropped in my lap. It was in the “People are saying. . .” form. I felt the hit of it, and then I tried to name all the visitors it brought with it: Defensiveness, Anger, Hurt Pride, a Rising Sense of Justice. I talked and listened to wise people. I tried to accept what was mine and lay down what belonged to others. The problem with the “People are saying. . .” criticism is that you cannot respond directly to the original critics. You can only defend yourself to the messenger, who is someone I deeply respect.

I’m not looking for defense or sympathy here. This is all just to frame how deeply Toko-pa’s words hit me this morning, particularly the piece about how, even when criticism is unwarranted, it can bring about helpful changes within. In the weeks that I have been carrying this little load, I have continued to check in with myself, to make sure that I am working out of my deepest and best self, and as I have sorted out what is mine to pick up and change from what is mine to let go and walk away from, I have been more carefully articulating my own visions and ideas about what it means to be an advocate for change. It has set me moving more intentionally into critiquing my own privilege. “Even cheap criticism,” Toko-pa says, “can serve you in that it forces you to articulate, even for yourself, what you stand for.”

And then those last three paragraphs offer me a map for how to proceed with resilience, how to step forward in my truth, without looking around to see whether others are clucking their tongues and wagging their fingers. (Ah. See. I still have some work to do. It felt pretty good to write that last sentence, like a little dig at my faceless critics. It’s easier, when my criticisms come to me secondhand, to make jibes at people I don’t “know.”)


Gratitude List:
1. When someone else’s words come at the moment you need them.
2. It might be cold, but we’re not snowed in like we were last year.
3. I think we’re finally getting the new (used) car today. (We’ve had our quota of deer-related accidents now. No more, please.)
4. Music from the 70s and 80s–really, it’s always a mood boost.
5. The deeply compassionate and concerned hearts of my students. A group of students have been talking to me lately about the Rodney Reed saga. They are researching and reading up on the story, and speaking out. Watching teenagers find their voices and speak with social conscience is one of the incredibly rewarding things about my job.

May we walk in Beauty.

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