Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.
– reportedly by Mark Twain1
1. Criticising others is an easy way out. It is very easy to blame all around us for our own unhappiness – this person, that person, our work, the traffic, the government. But this just lets avoid any difficult changes we need to make in our lives. The fact is, happiness depends primarily on our own inner attitude, not on other people or circumstances. Our own happiness or unhappiness is the most powerful filter through which we perceive the world
2. Criticising others only brings forward their worst qualities. When criticism is motivated by bad feeling, it never brings any positive change in the recipient. Quite the opposite, in fact. The Jewels of Happiness author, Sri Chinmoy: “By seeing someone’s limitations, we only delay our own progress. And, at the same time, we do not help the other person in any way. If we find fault with somebody, his undivine qualities are not going to disappear, nor are ours going to decrease. On the contrary, his undivine qualities will come to the fore in his defence, and our pride, arrogance and feeling of superiority will also come to the fore.”2 So instead, try to notice their good qualities! You’ll be surprised how your change of attitude helps to make their faults recede into the background.
3. Criticism invites an atmosphere of negativity. If you are in a conversation and you start criticising people, how do you think that conversation is going to turn out? The chances are they will start joining in (well, you wouldn’t have brought it up with them if you didn’t think they were sympathetic, would you?), and you will both make the rounds of other criticism-targets, only to emerge an hour or so with a considerably more misanthropic view of the world.
4. Criticism stops us from being in the heart. It is the mind that always suspects, judges and criticises – in fact, the mind’s most basic instinct is to doubt. One interesting observation comes to mind – A famous French mathematician and philosopher, Rene Descartes, known as ‘The Father of Modern Philosophy’ tried to establish exactly what he could know for sure. He only knew that he doubted everything, and from that he concluded that there must be a ‘someone’ who doubts (and therefore thinks) – hence the famous Latin phrase Cogito Ergo Sum (I think, therefore I am). What I find interesting about this is how it shows that doubt is a more fundamental function of the mind than even thought.
However the key to happiness is to go beyond the mind and live in the heart. Living in the heart gives us the ability to live in the moment and to always see the inner beauty in others. Criticizing others never lets us go beyond the world of doubt and mental confusion. To borrow another quote from Sri Chinmoy:
People who live in the mind cannot appreciate others’ achievements. They cannot become one with others’ ways. If we are in the heart, then we can appreciate equally what we ourselves have and what others have.3
5. Criticism wastes energy. It is one thing to criticise, it is actually quite another thing to make sure the problem you are criticising is solved. But of course, we indulge in the former under the illusion we are doing the latter. However spending time criticising others actually wastes energy that could be used in solving the actual situation caused by the mistake. The best thing is just to fix the problem and not dwell on who caused it.
- Originally appeared in MacLaren, Gay (1938). “I Meet Mark Twain”. Morally We Roll Along. Little, Brown and Company. p. 66. ASIN B00085LQDW [↩]
- From the book Fifty Freedom-Boats To One Golden Shore, Part 4, made available to share under a Creative Commons license [↩]
- From the book The Mind-Jungles And The Heart-Gardens Of Life, made available to share under a Creative Commons license [↩]