I can be critical (can’t we all?). I learned in school that effectively dishing out criticism makes for a great essay. Such writing got me into college, and then it got me a diploma. I didn’t land a job immediately after graduation, but I was eventually able to make money writing for blogs. A critical eye, paired with words, was putting food on the table.
But criticism doesn’t contribute much to relationships.
My high school sweetheart felt she could never please me or do anything right. My college sweetheart said the same. Thankfully she’s my wife now, but those words still creep up more often than I’d like to hear. I said hurtful things to my parents before I was old enough to leave the house, and now I’m afraid I will bring the same criticism down on my son.
The problem isn’t new, but what do I do about it? In the past I’ve started by looking over everything I did wrong and — you guessed it — criticized myself. Once I had a mental list of shortcomings, I knew what to do. But lo and behold, critique doesn’t fix a problem of over-critiquing.
My wife is critical too. Throughout our relationship we have maintained a steady diet of news, where activists and pundits offer a nonstop barrage of criticism. We have shelves of books where authors diagnose and criticize one aspect of society or another. How to pinpoint flaws and craft arguments is reinforced on a daily basis.
This isn’t the case with compassion. I’ve seen my mother offer it to the friends that entered my life. My parents opened our home to many foster kids and my adopted brother. Living with an autistic brother taught me much about patience and communication. But nearly a decade has passed since I left the house, and I have to think back to those lessons. Who has the time?
I’m starting to, now that I’ve committed to downsizing. An inherent part of minimalism is deciding what things are important enough to keep. This means having a gauge for what I truly want out of life and what (or who) actually matters. In cutting out what doesn’t mean all that much to me — digital subscriptions, canceling magazines, video games — I create more time to share with others.
By removing distractions, I make listening easier. I cultivate the space to learn how to be compassionate.
I wish I could say I have it all figured out, but give it time.