Balancing Praise and Criticism

Like many girls of my generation, I was raised to be nice and not make waves. I also happened to be an extremely sensitive child, which on the one hand was useful as I developed my skills as a writer. Writers, after all, need large reserves of empathy to understand the people they write about.

On the other hand, writing for publication requires you to develop a tough skin, to become impervious to praise and criticism. Writing is a profession that subjects you to rejection, revision, and in some sense, criticism, on a daily basis. Of course it also subjects you to praise and accolades when you hit it right. A rather tortuous career choice for someone who cares too much about what other people say about them.

I just read a piece, “Women are held back by caring about criticism,” by Tara Mohr in the NY Times Sunday Review that got me thinking. And feeling.

Citing a new study done for by entrepreneur Kieran Snyder that covered 248 reviews from 28 companies, it turns out that managers (whether male or female) gave female employees more negative feedback than they gave male employees. In addition, 76 percent of the negative feedback given to women included some kind of personality criticism “such as comments that the woman was ‘abrasive,’ ‘judgmental’ or ‘strident.’ Only 2 percent of men’s critical reviews included negative personality comments,” Mohr explained.

Talk about a double whammy! Not only are women conditioned over many generations to be nice and avoid criticism, but when they do step up to the plate and assert themselves in the workplace, they may be criticized more harshly than men are.

This research raised several questions in my mind. When does the need to be praised stop us from expressing who we really are? What does it take to have the confidence to move ahead with our goals despite criticism? And does praise or criticism either one have anything to do with the reality of our performance?

Mohr addresses some of these questions, writing that the research speaks to the “impossible tightrope women must walk to do their jobs competently and to make tough decisions while simultaneously coming across as nice to everyone, all the time.”

At the same time, she boldly states that women must accept the fact that if they want to achieve anything substantive, they are going to be criticized. Rather than trying so hard to avoid doing anything that could risk negative feedback, women need to develop a tool kit to learn how to persevere even in the face of criticism.

This makes sense to me. In considering the best way to develop that tool kit, my mind goes to a verse from the Bhagavad-Gita, an Indian text that reveals universal wisdom. One of my favorite verses states, “Even from here, in this life, the universe is conquered by those whose mind is established in equanimity.”*

This, of course brings up another question—how to go about establishing our minds in equanimity. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the author and founder of the Transcendental Meditation technique, states in his commentary on a later verse that equanimity of mind can be established through regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique. When established in equanimity, the mind rises above the influence of pleasure and pain. And just as the depths of the ocean are undisturbed by the commotion of waves forming on the surface, so the mind that is established in equanimity is not disturbed by pleasure or pain, praise or criticism.

This has been my own personal experience. Fortunately for me, I learned the Transcendental Meditation technique as a 19-year-old college student. Without the calm state of mind that it provides, I think it would have been very difficult for me to succeed as a writer. As I’ve grown more attuned to my own moral compass, my own safe harbor deep inside, I’ve been less and less influenced by the praise or criticism that comes my way. Ironically, by staying true to my own inner sensibilities, my authentic true self, I find that my words resonate more with my audience.

I know some of this growth is due to maturation, but I do think that by experiencing my own expanded consciousness every day, by getting in touch with that universal Self that connects us all, I have carried some of this self-referral nature into my activity and am much less influenced by the ups and downs of life. I recommend it to any woman who wants to succeed in business, succeed in the arts, succeed in life.

*The Bhagavad-Gita: A New Translation and Commentary by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Chapter 5 Vs. 19.

About the Author

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic—Complete and Comprehensive, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

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