Monday, July 18, 2005

Walk A Mile In Their Shoes?

"Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes."

Never criticize anyone until you put yourself in their place?I suppose the idea is that you must empathize more & criticize less. And that you shouldn't talk unless you know from experience that in the other person's place, under the same pressures you would have made better choices.

This quotation or something equivalent are often thrown at me. Am accused of being too critical. Seems I've been that way since early childhood. A teacher wrote in one of my second grade reports that I would do much better if I spent less time correcting the other student's work. It's true. Have memories of teachers yelling at me to go back to my seat when I'd be standing behind one of my friends, telling him or her what they're doing wrong.It started with my friends asking for my help but then it became a habit.

And now?Have I managed to stifle the urge to correct?Unfortunately not. Seems to be getting worse with old age.

Going back to the above quotation, why does it make such little sense to me?Several reasons:

1)For me criticism is usually an act of empathy in itself. Don't bother to criticize people unless I like/admire/respect/love or otherwise care for them & think they can do better & actually want them to. People I disrespect or dislike simply don't interest me or keep my attention long enough for me to analyze or criticize them. Added to which, if someone falls off my radar screen in that way I really stop having any good expectations of them so why bother to criticize them if they're hopeless anyway?

2)Seems to me that if you are not walking in someone's shoes, if you're the outsider looking in, then you're more objective because you're less involved.Stands to reason that it's harder to see the big picture when you're in the middle of it.Besides does it make sense that if I see someone about to walk off the edge of a cliff I shouldn't say anything to them because I personally never walked off the edge of the cliff before?Does it seem appropriate then to be thinking oh well they might have their own good reasons for what they're doing?If it was me walking off the edge of that cliff I'd sure want someone to do something about it!

3)The underlying assumption here is that if you criticize people a lot it must be because you think you're perfect or superhuman. In my experience this is false. If you have a critical personality you're usually difficult to impress or satisfy & you'll be that way with yourself more than anyone else because obviously you see your own imperfections more clearly than anyone else's. Criticizing others doesn't make me feel better about myself at all.Nothing really makes me feel better about myself if I think I've messed up.

4)Popular belief would have it that criticism discourages people. And that if someone is already upset or suffering from the consequences of their own actions you're being insensitive if you remind them of what they did wrong. Instead you should give them sympathy & help them to forget.

Am I the only ones who thinks this is nonsense?If I am feeling down NOTHING makes me feel worse than for someone to come give me a hug & say oh you poor, unfortunate woman etc...It makes me feel helpless & that makes me panic. Don't make me feel like a powerless victim. Don't encourage me to overindulge in self-pity. Nothing positive or encouraging about feeling sorry for yourself & mad at the world. Ok give me the hug but do please criticize. Tell me how I could have done better. Make me believe there IS something I can do to improve the situation. I'd rather make myself feel like the villain of the piece than the helpless victim. The villain has power - he can decide to reform himself. The victim can do nothing but take it.I'll never understand what comfort people derive from conspiracy theories & making themselves out to be victims. It seems so depressing to me.

Yesterday a friend(M. - the one with the husband who flirts online) was saying to me that she doesn't know why she keeps coming back to me with her problems when she knows I'll always blame her for them. Then she thought about it & decided that the reason is that on the rare(?) occasions when I say she was blameless it makes her feel like a saint.Didn't know quite how to take that.

21 Comments:

Blogger Alina said...

I am a bit of a critic myself. And my friend Oana, who is one of my best friends actually, always points out where I am wrong! And I thank her for that every time! I don't need her to pity me or to solve my problems, I just need her to help me see when I am wrong. And I like to think I do the same for her...And for other friends of mine...
Criticizing everything isn't that bad! Yeah, it might show you're a perfectionist...But is always wanting to get to the best part/way of everything really that bad? It can be annoying to others though...I don't know why, but people really hate being told they're wrong about anything.

7/18/2005 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger zoss said...

In my experience, all these issues can be resolved if one makes a clear distinction between criticizing people and criticizing people's actions.

(This is, of course, in addition to the popular distinction between constructive criticism and otherwise.)

7/18/2005 07:05:00 PM  
Blogger zoss said...

I'm also reminded of Wayne Attoe's "Architecture and Critical Imagination", and I thought I'd share this bit (from chapter 7):
"The ends of criticism should be beginings. If criticism does not have a forward-looking bias it will be of little use and in fact of only passing interest. After-the-fact, harangues and gushes of approval mean little if they do not relate to future issues, future problems and aspirations for a future. Along the way criticism may well be enjoyable and slucidating as well, but always there should be what might be called an evolutinary bias in criticism."

7/18/2005 07:28:00 PM  
Blogger LouLou said...

Kayla,

"I don't know why, but people really hate being told they're wrong about anything.
"

Insecurity?Immaturity?Egotism?Who knows?Am only guessing here.

Always happy to meet a fellow perfectionist:)



Zoss,

Interesting contribution thanks. You could be right in some cases. Some people are not necessarily opposed to all criticism in principle but could reject it because of the manner in which you criticize them. And I must say that some people criticize others out of spite & seem to wish to put them down.

I agree with Attoe. The criticism I was thinking of is the criticism that is concerned with improving the future.

Can't agree about criticizing people's actions & not people though. Doesn't that contribute to the culture of the victim? A culture where nothing is anyone's fault & you have no accountability & no responsibility? We shouldn't encourage people to think they can't help their actions when infact they are the only ones who can.

7/19/2005 08:22:00 AM  
Blogger haal said...

i might be a perfectionist as well, and i do make harsh criticizim only if asked by a friend to give my opinion. otherwise, i just watch and put a smile on my face.

no one wants to be criticized, even when they ask for opinions they want to hear something in specific, if you didnt say it, then they got pissed and they wont listen. will argue and argue to prove they are not doing what u are saying...etc. so unless they are super ready, your words are not in 'personal criticizm' format but in an advice format they will get itchy. Right time, right mood, right words, righ setting....right everything...which are impossible so why waste my energy if the other is not ready to listen.

it is easier to criticize actions of people you dont know actually. you pass the comment, and move on....here in egypt there are lots of things to criticize and I do that but dont get in arguments.

7/19/2005 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger Alina said...

"Right time, right mood, right words, righ setting....right everything...which are impossible so why waste my energy if the other is not ready to listen." - well, Haal, they might seem not ready! But maybe they go home, think about what you said, about why it pissed them off, and maybe decide you were right! They will thank you (not always to your face) in the end and they will come back for more of your opinions later...
Sometimes the people that tell us what we don't want to hear are the best help we can get! I stongly believe that! Of couse, some say it mildly, some harshly, but it really doesn't matter as long as you hear what you need to hear, like it or not!
"it is easier to criticize actions of people you dont know actually. you pass the comment, and move on" - I guess it is easier as long as you don't cross roads with those people again. Because your criticizm lacks context, background and other stuffs that might later change your first opinion. A lot to be criticized in Romania as well. And trust me, the thing Romanians are best at is criticizing (and sometimes really complaining about how others handle different situations).

7/19/2005 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger LouLou said...

Kayla & haal,

Ok so that makes 3 of us. Am so happy am not alone:)Thanks girls.

Am like haal in that when I criticize someone I think am doing them a favor by wasting my energy etc...so I get surprised if they react by being upset when I was only trying to help.

Wouldn't bother with someone I didn't know though. When it comes to personal criticism it has to be me or someone I like. Other than that I prefer to criticize public issues - although even there you're not safe because some people take it personally when you criticize something they believe in.

But do you guys think we criticize ourselves as much as we need to? It's weird but I go into self-criticism mode immediately if someone gives me a compliment or says something nice about me or worst of all shows me gratitude. Just start asking myself did I mean whatever it was the way they took it?Do I deserve it?What were my real motives?

I think am more comfortable with criticism than praise actually. Unless it's criticism of my hair:)

Some criticism I even take as a compliment. Like when people say you're such a perfectionist. Well I am & I like it even if they don't mean it as a compliment it'll make me smile.

But once someone started saying of course you have such high standards because you are such a wonderful person etc...That was embarrassing & it made me acutely uncomfortable. It was the same message but I didn't like it put this way. Maybe because this particular person gives too many compliments in general.

7/19/2005 03:08:00 PM  
Blogger haal said...

'when I criticize someone I think am doing them a favor by wasting my energy etc'
No, I dont think of it this way. I just think that they need to be ready to listen to what I will say and not in their 'stubborn' attitude. I say what I see and think clearly and if they are accepting then fine, if not then I just simple stop. I am not into telling people what they need to do, and I am trying to take the role of their mothers. I simply say what I think and stop there. Not into persuading and talking and arguing, or try to convince anyone with anything. And thus I have no expectation good or bad, praise or hate.

And all in all, it all depends on the personality you are dealing with, and the issue, and my mood. And I wont call it criticizim as much as 'advice', 'opinion'.

As for the passing comments I do to people on the street when they do somehting, like throwing paper, wasting water, ....etc I say it casually, sometimes I fight depends...but these are core behaviour issues, not opinions in how people are dealing with their lives. I mean, these are righ/wrong issues.

7/19/2005 03:35:00 PM  
Blogger doshar said...

amazingly loulou, you can criticize and be understanding both at the same time. it does bother people to be criticised, because it is often difficult to face one's faults.

when judging something, at the same time , mentally put yourself in their position and try to see why the did what they did. if you begin by for ex.

"i understand that it was a tough situation and u did this because so and so, but you should have done this or that..."

giving them some lee way place to know that they shouldn't have done whatever, and at the same time not feel horrible about themselves.


you know what, a while back, a certain situation happened to me where i got really hurt. everyone i talked to said something. but the bottom line is, the people whose opinion i really understood are the ones who had once been in my position.

mixing empathy with advice is doable. and it has great effects

7/19/2005 03:38:00 PM  
Blogger LouLou said...

Haal,

"And all in all, it all depends on the personality you are dealing with."

Guess it depends on your personality too. Am a worrywart by nature. Always have plenty of my own issues to worry about. Have a tendency to be a bit self-involved because of that. So when I set my own worry aside & listen to someone else's personal problems & think/worry about them & come to a conclusion that takes a bit of effort. Would only do it for someone who I thought was worth it.If the person is not someone I know or like I prefer not to be burdened with their problems aslan. If they choose to tell me I'll try to evade/change the subject & generally avoid giving an opinion.Actually dislike receiving uninvited confidences or being asked to give an opinion when am not interested enough to have one.

If the person is someone very close to me then if I see them mess up I get angry.If they hurt themselves I get angry with them. If they hurt others I get disappointed in them & that always makes me angry. Sometimes too angry to be tactful.And then if they argue yes I'll fight.But that's only a few people.

It's one of 2 extremes with me I guess.

Like you said though that doesn't apply to public issues. Like someone not cleaning up after themselves or harrassing other people.Or like political or cultural issues that affect the common good.Then everyone should interfere & criticize I think.

7/19/2005 05:23:00 PM  
Blogger LouLou said...

Doshar,

"giving them some lee way place to know that they shouldn't have done whatever, and at the same time not feel horrible about themselves.
"

But don't you think that if you did something wrong you should feel horrible about yourself?How else will you learn not to do it again if you feel good about it?

Feeling good about yourself should be something you earn. Just like you expect other people to earn your good opinion, you have to expect it of yourself too.

If we had a culture where people disciplined themselves maybe we wouldn't need rules for everything & prisons & death penalties & all sorts of punishments to keep us in line.Surely that was the point of most religious teachings - that people should fear God & their own conscience so they don't need to be treated like children & have constant control & supervision.

That's what I always think when someone does something wrong & you find people arguing that it was their parent's or society's fault for giving them too much freedom etc....Unless it's a small child then no it's not. It's their fault & no one else's for abusing their freedom. Why should everybody's freedom be limited because someone can't make the right choices?

That was my point I'd expect someone who really cared about me to be tough on me when I mess up. So I try to give the same back.

Is that too harsh?

7/19/2005 05:39:00 PM  
Blogger Alina said...

"But do you guys think we criticize ourselves as much as we need to?" - I really don't know what to say here...I tend to be harsher on me than on anyone else, but people don't see me that way (because they only see the "you're way too demanding part). I have to do everything right and I do suffer for every bit of time that I waste (imagine how much I suffer cause I do waste enormous amounts of time!)and always tell myself I could do more, be more...
Criticizm from others, I take it seriously when the person doing it is someone worth listening to. But I tend to be really agressive when people who really have no idea what and who they are talking about start to criticize everything in my life.
But I am not sure how much criticizm it takes to keep me on the right track.

7/19/2005 05:53:00 PM  
Blogger doshar said...

"But don't you think that if you did something wrong you should feel horrible about yourself?How else will you learn not to do it again if you feel good about it?"


i guess it depends on the wrong deed. if you are evil or hurtful to someone else, i believe in not giving them this lee way space. have to awaken their conscience. (did you see my post about X and Y?)

i think what i was referrimg to was from my own experience. my situation where i got hurt. it happened because i was too blind or foolish to not see when someone is abusing me. and i was too weak to walk away. and in the end i am the one who got hurt.

people were like "well, you did this to yourself" ". these were the words said to me by the actual person who abused me.
and others were like; didn't you have a mind to use? u have no excuse. it is your own fault.

the people who were in the same situation inderstood. the pain is a much better reminder that what i did was wrong than anything.

so i guess it depends on the situation.

harsh criticism and sometimes punishment is needed. and forgiveness and understanding when life is already hard is something else. no absolutes

"That was my point I'd expect someone who really cared about me to be tough on me when I mess up. So I try to give the same back"

yes that is totally acceptable. and i would love that from my friends. because it is not done to hurt me, rather to protect me. i would rather it is during the messing up though rather than after. control damage.

and i don't think you are too harsh. even if what you say sounds like it. i think that if your friend you were talking about came one day crying to you that her husband has cheated on her for ex., i think you will listen and care first, then when she is calmer, you will tell her to shape up.
am i right?

7/19/2005 06:38:00 PM  
Blogger LouLou said...

"i think that if your friend you were talking about came one day crying to you that her husband has cheated on her for ex."

Actually she thought I was a bit harsh. Was shocked & angry & asked her a lot of aggressive questions. She was trying to act like it was a good joke & this pissed me off.Pressured her & in the end she broke down & started crying.

It's not a question of listening & caring. You get to a level of friendship where you don't ask if you care about each other anymore.Do you think that if we weren't close she'd even tell me something like this?It goes without saying. If I didn't care why would I be angry?

She's a perfect example of someone who has been burying her head in the sand, not talking to him, not talking to anyone, ignoring the prob, feeling depressed & sorry for herself. She's been living this victim role for years. It's time she stopped procrastinating & did something positive about the situation.

What upsets me is that this isn't like her. She's not a weak or passive person.Don't know what's wrong with her.And being in love is not an excuse. If she loves him all the more reason to be firm & do something to save her marriage.

That's what I tell her everytime we talk about the issue which is why she made the comment I posted about here. She doesn't need more sympathy. She's been giving herself enough sympathy all this time. She said I don't know what it's like because am not in her shoes & I told her you're right am not in your shoes & you shouldn't be there either.

About your situation I don't have enough details about it but I wouldn't say you did this to yourself.

If you were still in the situation I'd tell you you're letting yourself be abused & you should stop.

After the fact if you were getting too depressed for too long about someone who proved they weren't worth it then yeah I'd tell you to shape up. You should be happy to be rid of such a bad bargain.

And if you start feeling like a victim I'd tell you that you're not. We choose the people we associate with. You had a choice & you got it wrong. Just move on & next time choose more wisely.

Like I said am not interested in criticizing people for the past. What's done is done. What I think is important is what you do from now on.

7/19/2005 08:04:00 PM  
Blogger doshar said...

"What upsets me is that this isn't like her. She's not a weak or passive person.Don't know what's wrong with her.And being in love is not an excuse. "

good book to read, called emotional intelligence. it has an interesting chapter called "emotional hijack" or brain hijack" i don't remember.

it explains exactly what you are saying, how someone can act in a way totally against rationale and against their own nature in highly emotional situations.

it explains that certain emotional scares or fears are placed in a place in the brain different than other things. Like panic or fear in phobias, losing someone you love or any other situation that your brain feels it can't handle emotionally. in this place, if some stimulus alerts these fears or emotional anxieties, it practically takes control of the brain. because impulses pass by it first before getting to your conscious brain. and so you would do anything that leads to prevention the eminent threat.

of course these can change , but they take a long time and effort. to convince yourself that you can handle it. this fear in your friend's case is the thought of living without her husband. she is probably terrified of that inside. and it is stopping her from lets say; rock the boat.

so maybe here, yes you will only understand if u are in her shoes. you are probably stronger than her, yes and strength makes a difference. but her weakened state could be the result of years.

i think the best thing for her, is not just push her to do something, but give her strength against this monster of fear. do alot of girl things with her so she can see that even if she does lose him, it is not the end of the world. increase her self esteem. make her proud of ehrself in other things.

in alot of cases i have read about in which women stay with men who cheat, they say the women usually have very low self esteem. and they depend on their husbands to feel alive or happy. she is in a tough place believe me.

7/20/2005 12:03:00 AM  
Blogger LouLou said...

Doshar,

"good book to read, called emotional intelligence. "

Thank you. Maybe she can read it too.

"this fear in your friend's case is the thought of living without her husband. "

The thing is I know her husband. Have known him a long time although I can't stand him anymore. He's not an evil person. He's just a bit spoilt - a little rich boy like they say.Only child of wealthy parents etc...you know the type.

But he does care about her & about his children. For one thing, now that his parents have passed away she & her children are the only family/stability he has in his life.

But he's the kind of person who'll get away with anything he thinks he can get away with. And she played to this side of his personality by being passive, by making him think he can have it all, that there's no price.

He's also not a very strong character. Of the two of them she is - or used to be - the stronger personality. If she really wants him that badly she CAN control him. She CAN fix this situation. She just needs a bit of strength & self-confidence.

By being passive she's not only wasting years of her life being miserable to the point where it's affecting her heatlh & even her ability to be a good mother, she's taking an even bigger risk. Maybe he cheats without the intention of actually leaving his wife for another woman but relationships have their own dynamics. Once you get into them you can't always control where they go. At any time he could run into a woman with a stronger, more manipulative personality who WILL make him leave his wife. Then what?

If after everything he did she still loves him enough to put up with this misery why not do something to keep him? If not then why not get rid of him?

So you see why I feel like shaking her for not doing anything. It's so frustrating!

"do alot of girl things with her so she can see that even if she does lose him, it is not the end of the world. increase her self esteem."

Yes she does need to get out more.Thanks. Will see about that. A lot more fun than just listening to her complain all the time & do nothing.That's aggravating for both of us.

7/20/2005 07:54:00 AM  
Blogger Twosret said...

Loulou,

I can't think of anything but my wedding biblical reading when I read your post. It might sound out of topic to you but, I think every relationship is based on love and kindness and managed in good faith can fall under this beautiful verse.



Love is patient.

Love is kind.

Love is not envious.

It does not boast

or become conceited.

It is not indecent.

It is not selfish.

It is not irritable.

It does not plan

to hurt anyone.

It does not delight

in wrongdoing

but is happy with the truth.

It bears everything,

believes everything,

hopes for everything,

endures everything.

Love never fails."

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

7/20/2005 08:38:00 AM  
Blogger zoss said...

LouLou
"Can't agree about criticizing people's actions & not people though. Doesn't that contribute to the culture of the victim?"

I'm not advocating letting people off the hook. I just believe that it's not very constructive to tell people there's something intrinsicly wrong with them.

In my mind, there's a clear distinction between: "you made a mistake!" and "you make mistakes!". Of course not to mention "You are an ass!"

7/20/2005 05:01:00 PM  
Blogger Lizy said...

Great Blog!A good article written..Thats true before criticizing someone we should put ourselves in that position and do that job..its hard .. Excellent work.

11/05/2007 07:20:00 PM  
Blogger a_glennsmith said...

Offering advice or criticism - even constructive - when it hasn't been asked for is about YOU and not them. I would invite and encourage you to delve deeply into your own impulses and motivations for criticizing others or offering help to someone when they haven't asked. If they have specifically asked then great, go ahead and offer your thoughts and opinions, not as a solution, but as a way to help them get clear in their own mind what they need. I always think of the saying 'get your own house in order before trying to fix others'. Whenever you feel that something would be better changed about another, then you are really coming across something within your psyche that you don't accept and like about yourself. Hard to see in reality I know but this is the way it is. Whenever you feel compelled to offer unsolicited advice, turn it around and make it about you. When you do this you will notice quite magically that less and less in the world needs to be corrected.

4/25/2010 05:25:00 AM  
Blogger Catherine said...

I am finding some of the justifications for criticizing others very disturbing here. Wow! Some individuals have bloated egos and really twisted logic! That borders on bullying,is abusive and mean spirited. It sounds like you need to inflate your weak egos by putting others down and acting superior know it alls. You guys must be real gems to hang with - not.

1/10/2012 04:17:00 AM  

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