One of the most popular posts on my blog thus far has been “3 Really Important Things I’ve Learned From Being Criticized”. In that post, I talked about how our responses come from projection. So, if someone insults you, that’s a reflection of his own self-image, and if you feel insulted by his words, that’s a reflection of yours.
I wrote, “I’ve learned that believing praise is as dangerous as believing criticism, because it accepts another’s opinion as truth instead of as an interpretation.”
What I was saying, in a nutshell, was “don’t take it personally.”
I’ve been following that philosophy for a while now, and it’s been serving me well. Or so I thought.
Last week, I accidentally dug even deeper into the heart of criticism and came back with a fresh epiphany. I’ve realized that “don’t take it personally” isn’t the end of dealing with criticism. It’s just the beginning.
Before I explain, let me tell you how this epiphany came to me. It all started when I realized that I could reply to The Love Mindset’s book reviews on Amazon. As you may know, I make a point of being responsive and accessible, so I was excited about this opportunity. Sitting in an outdoor cafe attached to a bookstore here in Bucerías, Mexico (with the world’s cutest cat by my side), I replied to all my reviews to date.
The experience was as uplifting and heart-warming as coming upon an old box of childhood memories and sifting though its contents. It wasn’t only the reviews that made me feel good but also the opportunity to respond to them, to be grateful, to give love for the giving of love, to put myself into others’ shoes and feel how the book has affected their lives.
It was a journey of open-mindedness, relating to others and responding to their experiences.
Whenever people tell me about how much I’ve helped them, I tend to give them all the credit. After all, my help means nothing if it’s not accepted. I’ve learned that an open mind is far more rare than a helping hand.
Open-mindedness is very important to me.
In the past 3 weeks, I’ve read The Shack (a very Christian, very “God” oriented book), Lila (a philosophical, spirituality-in-scientist-clothes book), Theory of the Young-Girl (a militant, bleak socio-political manifesto), and The Last Lecture (a collection of personal anecdotes from a scientific-minded man suffering from cancer). All of these books were difficult for me to read to some degree (some much more than others) because I was triggered by the language and disagreed with the opinions. And yet, I have learned important things from every single one.
I learned because I was open to learning. The books would have taught me nothing if I wasn’t willing to learn from them.
So while I was going through my reviews, I thought about how the reviewers’ experiences and beliefs caused them to dish out certain praise. I thought about how their beliefs about gratitude made them write the review in the first place. I thought about how their openness to the teachings in the book affected their ability to implement them.
But there was something else—something I hadn’t seen before.
Wasn’t I doing the same thing, in responding to my reviews, as I do when I read books whose language and belief systems conflict with mine? Am I not looking past the criticism and praise into what is deeper underneath? Am I not open to something in there, something beyond projection, beyond rejection, beyond feedback?
This was an interesting revelation because my previous post emphasized the importance of taking feedback with a grain of salt. Yet there’s more in praise and criticism than feedback.
Praise and criticism are rarely about feedback. When people praise or criticize others, they are trying to describe their experiences, their feelings, their hopes, their suffering.
So while we can choose not to take people’s words personally, I think we should absolutely take their communication attempts personally. Whatever clothes it shows up in, every piece of communication is a valid, real reflection of the human experience.
Yes, all praise and criticism reflect a person’s belief systems, but beyond mere words, there is raw, human emotion. There is real humanity. That is what I saw in all those reviews—a reflection of my own humanity.
Basking in the glow of this revelation, I remembered my bad review. “The” bad review, I call it sometimes, because it’s been the only harsh, public, critical review I’ve received for the book so far. It’s on Goodreads if you want to see it. It says:
wow, so not for me! no science at all behind this one, just someone thinking that ‘love’ can cure everything–no medications or other types of therapy needed. very generalized and poorly researched (sweeping false statements, violence is rising like a virus, etc.), but i only got about 1/4 of the way through so not really rating it or giving it a full review. who knows, maybe the other 3/4 was real helpful advice based on solid evidence.
To date, I’d dealt with that review with some dignity, accepting the reviewer as someone who needed to communicate in the language of science in order to be helped. Of course, it’s nothing personal against me because I didn’t try to use science and she didn’t want to hear anything that wasn’t science. I thought that was the end of the story. No hard feelings, right?
I kept my emotions separate from hers because to experience her emotion would have meant to experience emotion against me. Or so I thought.
That day, however, that day as I sat in the glow of deeply interacting with each kind Amazon review, I suddenly remembered this woman, and I was overcome with such a strong emotion bonding me to her, it was almost as if this feeling had been suppressed inside of me, trapped within, awaiting that very epiphany.
The emotion was pure love, pure compassion.
I felt her discomfort. I know what it’s like to start to read something or hear something but be triggered by its language. Of course, that’s uncomfortable. Throughout my life, I’ve felt that about many things, including “God,” hypnosis, spirituality, you name it. I couldn’t take information in any other form but the forms I was comfortable with.
I felt her disappointment. Why would someone read a book like The Love Mindset? Of course, she wanted help, but I disappointed her. The book disappointed her. She had reached out for something she thought would save her, but it failed her again. I know that feeling.
I felt her desperation. I know how it feels to build fortresses of certainty, fortresses made of language and beliefs, around myself. I know what it feels like to have faith coax me out of my shell only to be overcome with fear and anger at seeing an alien world come pouring into the cracks of my carefully constructed structure. That hurts. I know how much it hurts.
I felt her suffering. I know what it feels like to be drowning in my own pain, just looking for something to hold onto, something to keep me afloat. I know how it feels to not have the time to look into the depths of things floating on the surface. I know how it feels to only care about whether those things keep me afloat enough to help me catch my breath. I know how it feels to suffocate and be unable to dive under, dive deeper.
Maybe this was her exact experience, and maybe it wasn’t, maybe I was just making it up, but this is what I felt. I felt it so powerfully that I closed my laptop, closed the new book I’d bought, closed my journal, and just sat there in it.
I realized that this woman wasn’t criticizing me or my book. Books are just conversation-starters, and each person must be willing to engage in the conversation. (And, believe me, if I had a good conversation with Theory of a Young-Girl, anyone can talk to anyone about anything.)
It’s not about the book. It’s not about inherent value. Everything has some value, if we let ourselves see it. Her review was not about the book’s value. It was about her communicating her experience. And I have a responsibility to her and to myself, as a human being, to really see that, to really feel that.
This has marked a new chapter for me. Something is suddenly gone—a fear I didn’t know I had. A fear of being forced underground, drowned by so many negative voices that self-awareness can’t dig me out from underneath them. A fear that has kept me from doing all I could do in my life and in my work.
I am a little less afraid today than I was yesterday. And, having been through this so many times, I realize that I will be a little less afraid tomorrow than today. There is always more fear and always more opportunities for me to step into my own unknown.
With a newfound sense of courage, I realized that meeting criticism with a decision to be wholly, completely, compassionate is actually one of the lessons inside The Love Mindset. I guess I am still learning to apply those important lessons myself. Maybe I will always be, I don’t know.
What I do know is that I’m ready for more. I am ready to step up and spread even more of my love into the world without fearing the responses I’ll get. Maybe I will be pushed away, slandered, and misunderstood. If I am, I will use that opportunity to empathize with those who push and slander and misunderstand. After all, that was me. That is me. That is all of us.
Of course, words hurt, but I can choose to find my own humanity inside and beneath words. Like this, they have no power over me. I will not allow myself to build fear fortresses, even if those keep out the worst and cruelest of words.
I am more ready now. I am ready to respond even more, dive even deeper, explore the underwater minefields of our world’s tortured heart. I have nothing to prove, but I do have more to give than I am giving. I’ve got this oxygen mask now. It would be a waste not to use it going deep underwater, deep where many people can’t go yet.
I know how epiphanies can so easily come and go. Unused inspiration flutters away to the wind. So, I am using this moment right now to commit to a few things and make you some promises. I am going to face my fears more intensely, for me and for you. I promise you:
- More videos: I love writing, and I love speaking as well. As a nomad, speaking on stage is not much of an option these days, but my video camera is right here with me, barely used since the Self-Love Challenge. I will bring more of my face to my messages. I will bring authenticity and honesty to a new medium, a new space. I will share them here as well as on YouTube. I will be brave.
- The next book: I feel like I’m giving a very slow birth to The Art of Talking to Yourself and, to be honest, some of the holdup has been due to this exact fear I’ve just described to you. So, no more of that. I’m going to do my best to have it ready by summer 2016.
- Free books: I’ve decided to do a mass giveaway of The Love Mindset to celebrate my birthday on June 1st. I have no doubt that this sort of mass exposure will gain me a few more bad reviews, and I’m more than ready for that. You can get a copy for yourself and anyone else you know here.
I have the urge to promise more, but that’s going to be a lot of work, and I want to make sure I keep my word. I know it may not seem much to you, but all of these promises come up against existing blocks inside of me, blocks made of fear of how people will respond to me.
I hope that you’ll join me and choose to do what you want to do, knowing that any cruel responses just give you the opportunity to practice compassion.
We’re all in this together, after all.