I've been noticing something lately, both in the online and offline spheres that has begun to bother me. I've seen it in blogs and articles, and unfortunately in my own circle. It's nothing new, but I've witnessed and experienced the sting of this negative trend, and I feel like I can't keep quiet anymore.
Regardless of the subject and regardless of the environment, it seems like all we do is criticize and focus on the bad, more than we encourage and focus on the good. What more, we'll make a list of everything that's wrong, but refuse to acknowledge that we have the ability to make a positive impact and change, if only it be a small ripple. We do this to our leaders, our neighbors, and even our loved ones, not even willing to admit that chances are we're only aware of one part of the story. We point fingers at each other instead of joining hands.
I am not exempt from this: in the months following graduating and leaving Iowa City, I lashed out at people, mostly family, as a way to protect myself. I had held a lot in for the sake of not being an inconvenience, and was tired of being made to think that my pain and struggle (particularly regarding my parents situation) didn't matter. Did the screaming and yelling out a list of grievances help matters? No. But I didn't want to be looked at or treated like a doormat. I was not wrong, but yet I was not right either. It was an act of desperation, one that wouldn't have been necessary had I recognized that I've always been strong enough to express myself, and that I didn't need the guarantee of a positive reaction to do it.
The conversation is not about eliminating criticism in and of itself; people need to be called out on when doing harm to others. Mistakes should be brought to light so that they can be rectified. There are times when a different, much more edifying path can be taken than the one a person is currently on. True criticism is when somebody is willing to balance out the strengths and the need for improvement. Real critics tell the truth and give direction, but they're firm and encouraging in the process.
It appears that from observation (and my own experiences) that there is very little of that. That's why I have such a hard time talking about work-related and personal goals with certain people; it's not that I can't or am unwilling to have a conversation, but I have an acute sense of when a person is crossing the line from being a critic to a bully. My defenses go up because I refuse to be around someone who points out problems for the pure sake of doing so, rather than also offering suggestions or solutions. It's somewhat of a knee jerk reaction from my younger school days, where I would get picked on and emotionally shut down because I couldn't get them to back off. The sad part is that currently, this kind of exchange often happens with those who should be willing to say "I'm proud of you," and more than just at graduations or big life steps.
Yes, I'm sensitive; part of it is due to my own nature, being a creative and having a responsibility to notice and experience things in the deepest way possible. The other part involves being told throughout my life that I needed to be better, stronger, more able, and without an equal amount of praise that I was already doing well. Now I'm in a place where I don't feel the need to be pushed or prodded, because I already do enough of that myself.
There is no such thing as tough love, at least in the sense that it can be applied with such force and still have positive results. You can nag at, belittle, and yell at somebody and there's a chance that they can still grow and do something great with their lives. But let me tell you, that will not be without a hardened heart toward real love and beauty that surrounds them. It will not be without an inner struggle of agony, which could eventually lead to tragedy. I put up walls, and I have been at the brink several times. For those that don't believe in coddling, I get it. But far too many confuse coddling (a lack of boundaries and relying on fear) with real nourishment. People can still be leaders, innovators, and hard workers while still being compassionate and having a backbone.
It looks that way with the different generations, especially when it comes to older ones talking down to the younger (and the younger ones flipping the bird to the older). It's true that laziness, lack of motivation, and entitlement do exist, but that seems to relate less to age and more to personal history. Instead of using ageism and stereotyping as an excuse to put everyone into a category, why not give each group a chance to learn from one another? We all have a story, and we all have something to offer. What might look like laziness may actually be someone trying to keep themselves sane, to feed themselves emotionally and spiritually in the midst of navigating the real world. I don't want to put my identity solely in my work, so I need to make time for God and friends and doing things that fill my soul.
I want to build a career, yes, but I also want to build a life. With only so much physical and emotional energy in me, I have to rest and recharge. And I think that's true for everybody.
There's a knowing that deep down, you can't force anybody to be outwardly loving, affirming, and a giver of grace. I don't want to simply lay down and accept that this is the way the world works, and convince myself that it's me versus whomever. There's hope in the idea of the way that we treat others does not completely reflect who we are, but what we choose to do. In addition, knowing that my God is for me, and because of that, baseless opinions should not matter.
There are days where I'm sure, and others where I have absolutely no idea. I can ignore the noise and simply nod my head without having to agree, but only so long before I want to collapse from exhaustion.
Sometimes the hardest thing is doing for yourself what you wish that some would do for you. It's being able to see past what you don't have and recognizing the abundance that's already there. Show the world who you are in confidence, regardless of who's watching and who isn't. Be willing to give, but be willing to accept what others have to give in return. You are strong and you can do this.
Listen. Be willing to meet in the middle. Learn, build, and lift people up.
It's never too late to try.
photo credit: fadedlove-tiltshift via photopin (license)