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What to Do with Criticism…

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Criticism is the part of life. When it acts as stumbling block for few, it encourages and pushes others to perform even better. One might think the only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing, be nothing and say nothing but even then, people will criticize you for this very nothingness. There is no escape from it. Dealing with criticism is an art, which all of us need to learn.

In our individual lives, we face criticism on our get-up, the dress we wear, the grades we get, the way we carry ourselves and courses we opt in our universities, the expectations we fail to meet and the failures that are destined in our lives. We are criticized because of our families, our errors and our human mistakes. The same holds true in our professional lives.

People like to criticize. Those who are ignorant have uttered curses at AllahSWT, the Creator of all that exists, so what treatment should we, who are full of faults, expect from people. We will always face criticism, which in its onslaught is like an interminable war. As long as we shine, give, produce and have positive effects on others, disapproval and condemnation will be equally accompanied. It’s also one of the signs of success, for those who sit on ground don’t fail, neither do people kick a dead dog. All prophets were criticized by their people for the message they brought, however, they kept spreading the message of Islam till their death.

When you look at the other side of coin is, people also criticize wrong people and doing wrong acts. In this discourse of life, I have witnessed some people becoming immune to criticism, whilst others breaking down into pieces. There are some people who even disagree with constructive criticism that is being made, because they take offense to everything because of previous experiences, leading them to the pathway of more errors, mistakes and arrogance. This type of attitude is very wrong and detrimental to success.

And then, there are a group of people who take every sort of criticism to their heart and mind, leading to low self-confidence, making then emotionally amputated even when they are right! This leads to unwanted regrets and sorrows in life. This holds very true especially when working for the deen of AllahSWT. The views of people vary and accommodating everyone isn’t possible.

Right and wrong between religious people vary because of their understanding and culture. For instance, some people will say it’s okay to sell tickets on public lectures, whilst others consider it taboo and a means of business being done in the name of religious service. Some audiences like English lectures, others object. Some think Islamic lectures on a big stage with special lightening in the background are becoming too corporate, in turn lacking spirituality while others might defend it by calling them good presentation skills and marketing strategy.

Making the distinction between constructive and destructive criticism is very essential and of utmost duty to a believer, in order to grow in life as a humans, spouses, teachers and professionals. As a haadith says “A Muslim is not bitten twice from the same hole of snake” – meaning he corrects his mistakes and errors and doesn’t repeat them.1

The same holds true for those who call others to Islam. Those who criticize others every now and then also need to understand the saying of Messenger of AllahSAWS : “A believer is like a mirror to another believer”. Thus, one should give others space for errors and only criticize by staying within their boundaries in the best possible manner. 2

So, how do we deal with criticism?

1.Be genuinely open to hearing what the other person is saying and try not to interrupt or jump to conclusions. If you are constantly thinking about conclusions, you might hear something, which was never said or meant. Instead of attacking the other person for his or her words and building a hostile atmosphere, try to calm it down. Try to remain level-headed, open and figure out how this message can help you.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • Can I learn something from this piece of criticism?
  • Maybe there is something here that I do not want to hear but that could help me to improve?

2. Criticism may appear negative. But, through criticism we have the opportunity to learn and improve from their suggestions. Think about all those things which you can improve from  criticism as it’s reported that Imam Ghazzali (may Allah be pleased with him) said, ” Do not belittle the criticism of your enemies for verily their mind goes only towards your weaknesses and flaws”.3

3. Enjoy it – Yes, you have to enjoy it. When others are criticizing you, just smile and listen. Even if they may think that you’re out of your mind and crazy, just let them be. Even better, you may break their pattern and help to turn the situation around.

If you think about it, why do people criticize you in the first place? It is because they care about you. If they don’t care about you, they won’t criticize you. It is just that the way they express themselves is sometimes inappropriate. Thus, just enjoy it when people criticize you.

4. Reply or let go – Ask for feedback!

If you reply, then try one or a few follow-up questions if you think that it could help you. And even when someone blurts out something not too constructive like, “Your work/blog/product isn’t very good”, you might want to ask a few open-ended questions to get more constructive information.

Questions like:
◾What part of it did you not like or did you not find helpful?
◾How can I improve it?

5. Remain balanced and work on yourself.

◾Work in a relaxed way. Extra stress makes you more susceptible to the negative messages, leading you  to overreact.

◾Manage the 3 fundamentals: Eat properly, get enough sleep and work out a couple of times in a week. Keeping the balance of your physical fundamentals makes you mentally stronger too and helps you to listen to others.

Keep the self-esteem up. Criticism can send feelings of self-loathing and lousiness in your mind. Keeping the stress down and the energy-giving fundamentals up can help you to not wind up in such dark places. Keeping your own self-esteem up is also vital.

What are some of the tips you can share to deal with criticism? Please share them in the comments section below. 🙂

  1.   Bukhari 6133
  2.   Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1286
  3.   On Discipline the Soul by Imam Ghazzali

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