The Things I Carry: Critics taste better deep fried and with chips (Part 6)

Critical people are a bane on my life. A poison to my soul.

Am I being critical? Does that make me a hypocrite?

I don’t mean pragmatists. You can be a pragmatist and not be critical. I myself am a pragmatist with borderline optimistic tendencies.

No. I’m talking about the critics in my life. The negative. The depressive personalities. The whiners.  The naysayers. Fear and gossipmongers.

Sophists. Trolls.

Monday morning quarterbacks.

The ones who take the time to tell you how you did it wrong or could do it better. The judgmental know-it-all friends, partners, spouses, parents, bosses, employees and customers using shame words such as “should” and “would.”

They use criticism as a fish uses water: to make their way about the world.

I want them out of my pond. My river. My ocean. My puddle. I want them out of my life. Out of my head. Out of my heart. Off my back. Off my friend’s list. Out of my circle.

It isn’t that I don’t care for them. Some of them I’ve known for years and years and in truth I have to thank them. A few of the critics have taught me a great deal about life and myself. They have forced me to reevaluate my decision-making processes about my work, my family and my choices.

The problem is that, with a few exceptions, I find myself surrounded with people who are not in my shoes but know what I should – or should not – be doing or going. They are happy sharing their opinions with me.

Opinions I didn’t ask for. Opinions I certainly don’t need. And in some cases, opinions I don’t care about. Opinions they have shared before…over and over and over – about my marriages, my daughter, my parents, my business, my finances, my writings, my failures, my success, my personality (both the order and disorders) and my life in general.

Some of them were critics when I met them; some became critics as their lives changed. Being wounded by life’s disappointments and indifferences brought out their critical side as a defense mechanism. Some are just pot stirrers by nature and take joy in playing the devil’s advocate not so they can be helpful but so they can be the center of attention.

Of course, there are those that just enjoy the company of misery and broken dreams.

As a counterweight I’ve resorted to sarcasm, indifference, condescension, contempt, silence, anger and the occasional poison-tipped barb not so subtly hidden within an email or a text message.

Sometimes I’m just a dick.

And in truth, the remorse and shame of my behavior weighed down by my desire for the approval of others finally broke me. Somewhere along the line I lost my vision and just focused on getting through the day. I’ve been living that way for a long time. In the moment it feels like a lifetime.

As such, over the last three months I’ve sought some healthier counterweights.

I’ve begun attending professional business networks and motivational seminars. It isn’t the message I find interesting but the positive upbeat people. People with vision and drive to create something better for themselves, their families or for society.

I adopted a dog (lets be honest, he adopted me) and up until last week when I fell into a hole (not a metaphor. I literally fell into a hole. Sort of…) and severely sprained my ankle I tried to walk him one or two hours per day.I’ve spent more time alone reading, hiking, writing and listening to music then I have in the last five years. I stopped watching TV or listening to the news.

If I really need to know I will find out (the irony is that according to a recent survey this still makes me better informed than the average FOX news viewer).

Spending time looking at art and interacting with writers, painters, sculptors, photographers and generally creative people makes it difficult to be a dour prick. Spending twenty minutes per day admiring something stunning, creative, imaginative or unique sets the tone for the day.

I know this will sound odd, but I take a lot of pictures of the sky – by looking out and up it forces me to see outside my narrow world-view. It forces me to see the world is more beautiful and magnificent than my small problems.

In truth, I know all of this has made me easier to be around.

It has also allowed me to refocus my vision. It has allowed me to reset my angle of approach to life’s little molehills and allowed me to focus on the mountains.

For example, my business is in financial trouble.

I spent most of 2011 trying to manage the

unmanageable. The end result was I just wanted to pull the covers over my head and avoid the circle of naysayers circling around me. Which only exasperated the problems. Fortunately, the changes I’ve made recently have relieved me of a huge burden of responsibility and pulled more constructive and positive people into my life.

But the first step was to distance myself from the emotional and financial takers and critics. The second was to be honest about what I am – and am not – willing to do. The most important was to act on those truths and make the best choices for me regardless of how it might look to others. I am responsible for my own well-being. No one else can do for me what I am unwilling to do for myself.

The result of getting out more is that I am more constructive and positive. I can’t make the critics shut up but I can drown out their voices with positive, upbeat voices…and the occasional Stevie Ray Vaughan tune.

As I told someone the other day, one of the many problems with critics is they expect you to live your life backwards. Second guessing, replaying, reliving and reevaluating decisions that have already been made. I’m finished living backwards and the people in my life are the people that want to move forward too.

Life is entirely too short to let other people define my visions and my life based on “should have”, “would have” and “could have”.

I’m not saying this is easy but self-doubt is a critic’s bloody-chum. It drives them into a feeding frenzy and they come from miles around to get a pound of flesh. Critics are exactly like sharks. Except they are emotional and spiritual predators. They are only interested in what they can take because that is what they know. It is what they do out of training, habit or pathology to feel safe and in control.

Sometimes when their world changes they change. Sometimes all they need is a pill, exercise, a slap on the ass or simply a good fuck.

Sometimes they are just predators.

Regardless of the reason, like a diver facing a shark, to defend yourself you have to be willing to punch the predator in the nose.

Figuratively not literally…usually.

I’m usually wordy but I am going to leave you with the kernel of truth that someone planted in my soul long ago. I’ve thought of this quote over and over throughout the last decade. It was only recently that the kernel of knowledge blossomed into a tree of understanding resulting in my ending a number of really significant, long-term relationships and friendships.

It hurts but I deserve more. So do they.

So the next time you are faced with a critic remember the wise words of one of the greatest men in the history of the United States:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face in marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt

The Man in the Arena: Citizenship in a Republic

Address delivered at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910


  1. Good post. There is such a thing as constructive critisicm but for the most part the gossips and difficult ones are there without being helpful. Just have to keep your head high and do what you can.


  2. I’m OK amid the critics because God thinks I’m OK. I strive to mold my will to His and my life is better, more secure, at peace because of my faith. My goal is to be God’s woman every day and to serve Him and others. What I focus on helping another person in a healthy way each day, I can’t fall into the negativity of the world. I also do not listen to the news…it’s pointless. What they think is important doesn’t match what I think is important.

    Quilting is my passion for my creativity and I’ve been busy making presents for Christmas. What joy to share my quilting with others.

    Say “you could be right” to the naysayers and trust God.


  3. Wonderful essay! So true to life in so many ways. I loved the presidential quote. Criticism isn’t helpful unless you can use it to build a better tomorrow. It usually lacks empathy and has a primary goal of building the critic up and tearing you down. I especially reject criticism about matters of taste. Everybody is different and your taste is just as good as mine, in fact better, for you.


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