“With anything you choose to do in this world, there are always gonna be people who disagree. But I’ve had a lot more supporters than critics.” – Halima Aden
In my last blog post, I mentioned the idea of needing to develop a thicker skin, but I want to expand on this subject.
Our local arboretum is going to host an new exhibit of five 15- to 26-foot-tall sculptures starting in April. Most people are excited about the new exhibit, but others have fussed that the arboretum should be about plants and trees, not sculptures. Others say we should leave up the old exhibit of large trolls, which would double the quantity of large sculptures on site. This strikes me as amusing, because the arboretum can’t win with everyone, even though they are trying to do something good. There are always detractors. This also happened when the previous exhibit of trolls went up. People complained that the trolls were too far apart: “Too much walking!” Others said there weren’t enough signs or even that there were too many mosquitoes. Now individuals complain that the trolls are coming down.
This reminds me of when I used to visit my Dad at a nursing home years ago. Sometimes I’d join in with him when the residents were playing Bingo. One lady would shout “Faster! Call the numbers faster.” And another person would shout, “Slow down!” My Dad and I would laugh. The person calling the numbers (which is a good thing to do) could have taken this mild criticism personally. No matter what she did, someone complained.
Isn’t that true throughout our lives? We can’t please everyone. I am in a book club that reads mysteries, and often our opinions of the books vary greatly. Someone might love a book that I hate, and vice versa. We and our work will not be to everyone’s liking.
I mentioned the arboretum trolls. One problem nowadays is a different sort of troll, those on social media. Some people apparently enjoy being harsh to others on the internet. And that can make us afraid to speak out. Sometimes I don’t speak out because I’m afraid of criticism. But after practicing this a few times, I have developed a thicker skin. One day, I tweeted a public official asking what legacy they wanted to leave behind. At first, that tweet got more people laughing at me than “likes.” And for once, I didn’t care. I have the right to express my opinion. So do those who respond to me.
The problem is not so much with giving each other feedback. Feedback can be good and can help us grow. Feedback for a writer, for instance, can help us improve our work. In my writers group, I benefit greatly from the constructive criticism I receive on the stories I contribute to anthologies. We write three drafts, with three people critiquing each draft, as well as an editor. I used to think I couldn’t write fiction, but constructive criticism has empowered me to learn that skill.
The problem is when “feedback” is too harsh. Several years ago, I was upset by a harsh comment on an essay I’d written. That one comment echoed in my head, rather than the many compliments I’ve received for my writing. I find the courage to keep writing when I focus on my purpose in life and the reasons I write. Or I think about the people who do like my writing. You, my blog readers, have been very supportive. Have you received criticism that felt harsh? How did you deal with it?
We can’t let criticism hold us back, even if it feels harsh. It is just someone’s opinion, and not everyone will like us or our work. Or perhaps we misinterpreted what was meant. If we use our talents or try to improve the world, we will face criticism. Every leader or innovator does. We may be afraid to speak out, but in the long run, isn’t the risk better than being silent? We can be afraid to do anything that subjects us to criticism, but the alternative is to hide our talents and to make no effort to improve the world. If we want our world to change, we have to change ourselves, and that may mean speaking up.
Developing a thicker skin doesn’t mean we should accept disrespect or abuse from others. If someone triggers you frequently, it is self-care to keep your distance. But sometimes the way our words are received depends partly on how we deliver them. Do we address our concerns to the right people? Do we speak out too much, to the point that no one is listening? Do we speak in a civil manner? Do we treat others with the respect we want them to give us?
Maybe speaking out isn’t your way to make an impact. Maybe you do volunteer work or take care of someone or help in another way. That’s great. You’re “putting yourself out there.” And that can take a thick skin, too. Sometimes volunteers and caregivers receive little in the way of thanks, or they are taken for granted. That doesn’t mean they should stop doing good.
We recently began the season of Lent, an appropriate time to reflect on our lives and consider what changes we want to make. Sometimes making those changes means developing a tougher skin.
Note: This article from Psychology Today has suggestions on how to develop a thicker skin.
Do you try to improve our world? Would you like to develop a thicker skin? In what area?