“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.” (Dale Carnegie)
How often during the day to you or I criticize, condemn and complain? My guess is it is more often than we think. It can start when we are on our way to work and we condemn the driver near us who is going too fast, or too slow, or too close behind us. We conjure up thoughts about how incompetent they must be, or reckless or uncaring.
It continues when we get to work and find that someone has missed a deadline, and we have more work to do as a result. Or when the first email we open tells us that something we worked on with great diligence has been sent back for more work, or rejected outright.
When we are with our families it doesn’t stop. We might upbraid our children for poor school performance, a messy room, less-than-desirable table manners, and more. Our spouse might feel the rapier edge of our criticism when it comes to their household performance as well. We might not like how dinner is prepared, how the dishes are cleaned, the condition of the yard or the snow removal.
When we go out to a restaurant we might be hard on the wait staff. We condemn how they take orders, criticize and complain when things aren’t exactly as we want them to be.
I could go on all day with examples. Why? Because I have been guilty of every one of these, and countless others. My guess is that you could pull out a piece of paper right now and write down 10 ways you have criticized, condemned or complained in just the last 24 hours, and you could do so without too much thought. I’ll bet that if you were being 100% honest with yourself that the rate at which you were writing them would not be able to keep up with the speed at which they were entering your mind. And if you expanded your list to those things you thought about, but didn’t say, you’d go even faster.
The sad fact is that we have been programmed to criticize, condemn and complain. Our culture is rife with it. Have a look at any sitcom on television and look at the source of humor on the show. Invariably the funniest moments arise out of someone being mocked for some shortfall of theirs, perceived or real. I watch very few sitcoms these days because most of them seem to revolve around making fun of the father figure or prominent male in the cast. After all, it’s politically incorrect to make fun of just about anyone else these days. But politically correct or not, the fact is that humor that arises only out of mocking people for their perceived shortcomings only feeds the 3C beast.
This principle was developed first, and listed first in How to Win Friends and Influence People for two very important reasons.
First, it was then, and is now, the most important of all the principles. If one could master only one principle of the 30 I am going to write about over these 6 weeks, mastering this one would have the greatest benefit.
Second, it is first because it is the most difficult to master and follow. It is damn hard. I took the class over 14 years ago. I served as a Graduate Assistant 6 times after taking the class. I became an instructor of the class and taught scores of sessions of the class with 30 or 40 class members in the room. I have read How to Win Friends and Influence People at least 10 or 15 times. I carried a leaflet in my pocket with the principles on it. I have a magnet on the file cabinet at my desk with the first 9 principles printed on it. All that… and I still struggle most with this principle. Is it because I am weak of character, or lacking in self-control? Partly yes, but mostly because it is damn hard to conquer this principle on a daily basis in ones life.
As you are thinking about all the ways you criticize, condemn and complain, please remember this vector of the 3Cs…those pointed at yourself. As I have been going through my Journey toward better health, I have read dozens of blogs written by people like me who want to lose weight and become more healthy. I see people struggle with their ups and downs, as we all do when we are on a path like this. I have seen them (and myself) writing scathing criticisms about who they perceive to be the biggest culprit in their struggles – themselves. As I said, I am guilty of it as well. When I had a recent weigh-in that didn’t go the way I wanted, I sulked for the better part of a day and beat myself up for decisions I’d made. Did any of that change the results? Did my self-criticism remove any of the decisions I’d made? Did I lose even one ounce because I beat myself up? The answer to all of those things is NO. I gained nothing toward my goals by criticizing, condemning and complaining about myself.
And that is the dirty little secret about all of the ways which we engage in the 3Cs. Exactly none of them gets us any closer to what we want.
If we complain about the driver in the next car, will he or she drive differently? Of course not. For one, they can’t hear us, and for another, they care exactly zero about what we think.
Has grousing about missed deadlines ever turned the clock back to make the result change? Has criticizing someone ever made them perk up and want to do better? Never!
Has cajoling our children ever made them leap from their current activity and head to their room to clean it? Or voraciously scoop up their peas at dinner? If they have, then I want to know about it. It certainly never worked in my life.
The fact is that engaging in the 3Cs universally fails. Think about it from your own perspective. We have all been on the other side of the 3Cs. Have you ever been called on the carpet by the boss and left her or his office thinking “Damn! I love working here! I am going to go work harder than ever!” My guess is no. More likely you left with your own set of criticisms and condemnations about the boss, then spent time complaining, either aloud or in your head, about your working conditions. Would it matter a lick if anything the boss was upset about was accurate? Would it matter at all that there were things you could have done better or faster? No! Any reflection on that has to wait until you have cooled from the effects of the barrage.
The same is true in any of the circumstances I’ve used as examples. I have never driven differently because someone angrily honked their horn at me, or showed me evidence that they thought I was number 1. At least not differently in the way they wanted. I might back off in a bit of self-preservation, and to avoid escalating road rage, but I didn’t care a lick what they thought of my driving or what I had just done.
So the question is, what are we to do if not criticize, condemn or complain? The answer is found in the quote above. In order to break the habit, and find a new way, we must learn to understand and forgive. We must take on a spirit about us that says that those around us are doing the best they can with what they have, and that they have reasons for what they do – even if what they do makes no earthly sense to us. We have to take on an attitude that accepts the fact that many times people make mistakes and do things they wish they hadn’t, and that when that happens we need to learn to forgive.
This same thing applies to ourselves. When I had that unexpected result on the scale, it wasn’t because I had wantonly violated the principles of my healthy living. There were decisions I’d made in good faith, combined with things that were somewhat outside my control that came together to cause that blip. Understanding those things, and forgiving myself for any mistakes I made is a much healthier and faster way to get back on track than any amount of self-beating and self-loathing ever would be.
I have an idea, and assignment for any of you that care to take me up. Find yourself a slip of paper or an index card. Make sure it is something you can keep discreetly with you for the next couple of days. Write at the top, in bold letters, CCC. Each time, for the next 4 working days, that you feel the urge to, or in fact do criticize, condemn or complain, make a hash mark on the card. And, do one other thing. As you are making that hash mark, take 5 seconds to consider how you could have opted to find understanding in the situation, or forgiveness. Don’t forget to include the times that involve self-criticism.
My guess is that two things will happen over those 4 days. First, you will have an increased awareness of how prevalent the 3Cs are in your life. Second you will start to see ways that understanding and forgiveness can change your outlook. Oh, and I think a 3rd thing might happen. As you become more aware and start to replace your 3Cs with understanding and forgiveness, the 3Cs will happen with less frequency.
As a person who has struggled with this concept for over 14 years, and still considers himself a work in progress, I will tell you that it won’t be easy. And I will tell you that 4 days, or 4 weeks, or 4 months, or 4 years won’t be long enough to fully conquer the 3C beast. But, having awareness, and diligently working toward the goal will make your life better, and the lives of those around you. And, while you’re at it, people will like you more.
Principle # 1. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.