What it really means when you criticize others

The other day I heard a friend say, “Y’know, so-and-so is really judgmental, don’t you think?”  I couldn’t help but smile a little bit, since she was completely oblivious to the fact that, at that moment, she was engaging in the very same behavior she found reprehensible in another person — namely, being judgmental.

You can think of this as a blind spot — people being oblivious to their own faults while gleefully pointing out those of others.  I prefer to think of it as a homing device and highly accurate insight into the self.

Why?  Because the trait we find least attractive in others tends to be a trait that we exhibit and secretly, unconsciously, don’t like about ourselves.  This I’ve found to be true with remarkable consistency — pretty much always.  As Jung is purported to have said, all perception is projection.  And Anaïs Nin: “We don’t see the world as it is; we see the world as we are.”

The criticism is most pronounced when someone is a slightly worse version of yourself in some department.  You’ll really dig into someone who’s slightly lazier than you, or slightly later than you, because you hate that laziness and lateness in yourself with a blazing passion.

So next time, whether in the context of friendship or love, you find yourself criticizing someone, take that as an opportunity to assess who you are and what you don’t like about yourself.  As the Persian expression goes, kolahe khodeto ghazi kon — literally, make your own hat the judge.  Or as we say in English, take a look in the mirror.

Categories: Insight