“I knew from the start that the game was going to go poorly and oh, it certainly did. It was obvious my roommate, Alex, didn’t know what he was doing with Katarina and should have stuck with Teemo, whom he usually played. After I convinced him to go mid instead of top, he immediately killed himself on the first tower before our minions even had a chance to spawn, then he spectacularly managed to get himself killed by their minions less than three minutes into the game.
After his death three times in a row at the hands of bots, I knew we had thrown the game. Add in the connectivity problems of one of our other teammates, and the ominous message of “DEFEAT” across the screen was really no surprise when it came. It doesn’t get much more embarrassing than that.”
In the above story, if you were the narrator, you would probably let Alex have it, some harsh words over voice chat or some furious caps lock in the chat. But, what if I told you that venting your frustration on him would neither inspire improvement as a player nor bring you true relief from your irritation? All too often in our social relationships, we resort to sharp criticism when the actions of another cause inconvenience or aggravation. What we don’t understand is that this kneejerk response is incredibly toxic, and ultimately, does little to promote positivity or resolve the strife we face.
Criticism is a tempting action. It is often so easy to justify, after all, you can say a sharp critique is for the benefit of the target and those around them. A friend needs to be criticized so they’ll stop an annoying behavior, or a coworker must be berated to improve their performance. The problem with this mode of thought is that critique or condemnation rarely elicits a positive response or emotion from the other person. Instead of boosting their morale, you chip away at it. Within your friends or family, you hope that your criticisms will lead to a positive change or help the other person fit in, it only serves to isolate them instead. Barriers are put up between that person and others. Your relationship with them will be strained. Repeated criticism will only make things worse, and eventually, the other person may be driven off entirely.
This negativity does not stay between the criticizer and the criticized either.
Inevitably, it spreads. Whether by gossip, complaints, rogue telepaths, or witnesses to a confrontation; rarely do scoffs and sneers remain a private affair. Like an intellectual contagion, harsh words of rebuke spread and can damage the reputation of the other person. this can be especially bad when a harsher than normal complaint delivered in a sore moment of hurt becomes the new ‘standard’ they are judged by. A perfect, non-human example of this is word-of-mouth for films in theaters. Any Hollywood blockbuster can have a strong opening with clever editing in trailers and media omnipresence, but once those first bits of reception goes out, even the most perfectly marketed film can tank. Of course, usually those films deserve it, but it goes to show the destructive power of an opinion spreading.
Think of a time an undue scorn crossed the grapevine about you. Probably wasn’t a fun time. Any time you criticize or complain about another, you’re throwing a message into that grapevine, and the wine it produces ain’t sweet.
Even ignoring for a moment the shame or embarrassment the other person will feel, it will do a number on your own personal wellbeing. To undertake the action of criticism is to internalize the anger or frustration you feel towards another’s actions. The negativity you think is only being unleashed on the other person weighs on your own self. Think back to grade school, to the annoying, hyperactive kid who would never shut up. Maybe it was about the secret code for Mewthree his uncle who works at Nintendo told him about, or maybe he just loved the sound of his voice that much. You could say lashing out at him was justified, that you could only handle so much of his annoyances. If you ever thought about his annoyances outside of the moments you experienced, or in the present when you stew on the annoying actions of another, the annoyance has been internalized, carried around, tugging on your heart, cutting off the capacity for compassion to another and replaces it with hate instead.
Then, if you are not fazed by internal strife, external consequences rise up from a criticism habit as well. A grievance may sound justified and even agreed with, for the first few times at least. If left unchecked, another negative reputation can develop: yours. Go overboard with the criticism and you may end up looking like the worse person in a conflict. After all, your coworker may be slow on getting their projects done, but at least they aren’t thought of as a hypercritical ass. You may say, “I only criticize when it is deserved, never make a habit of it!” but just like your critiques of others, your faults can be magnified as well, and soon enough, you may end up with a worse reputation than your friend who posts too many lovey dovey pictures with their significant other.
Criticism creates a vicious cycle. One seed of anger or irritation grows into shame, resentment, emotional turmoil, shattered reputations, isolation, and just plain strife for all involved. It’s premium food for the dreaded drama llama. It may sound like some slippery slope thinking, but it is good practice nonetheless, for the benefit of your relationships, and yourself. Next time, just try some positivity and give a helpful suggestion instead.
Special thanks to Blue for her assistance with this post. Check out her blog, Blue’s Looking Glass.