Recovering from the need to criticize other people’s writing
If such an organization actually existed, I would have been a card-carrying member of Criticize-aholics Anonymous (C.A.), except for two small details.
It’s anonymous so there would be no point in carrying a card.
Criticism is about telling somebody I know more than they do, so the anonymous part wouldn’t work for that either.
I grew up in an abusive household and what I learned was that in order to suffer the least amount in any given day, I needed to be perfect. That became my de facto mantra; I must be perfect in order to survive.
That idea was supported by the lessening of the abuse, and so I concluded that being perfect was a good thing in my life.
Fast forward a few years and that need to be perfect had somehow transformed itself into the idea that everyone else wanted to be perfect and that it was my job to point out their errors.
“Who wouldn’t want to be informed of all their mistakes?” I would rationalize. “Besides, who wouldn’t want to benefit from all my knowledge?”
As it turned out, almost nobody wanted me to point out their errors and absolutely nobody wanted to benefit from all my knowledge.
I made my coworker cry
My coworker and I were master teachers. We shared an office. He put together an awesome presentation about how much improvement had been made with a new curriculum model in place. It was full of graphs and charts and percentages, and he worked really hard at it.
After his presentation was finished, we went back to our office and I said, “That was pretty good. Next time you do something like that, let me know and I’ll help you with the percentages so that they’ll look even better.”
He came unglued. He started to cry.
I can’t remember everything he said but it was about working for weeks on his numbers, staying up at night practicing his presentation and wanting to do well in front of our boss.
I realized at that moment, my critical words were about me needing to feel superior. They had nothing to do with helping my friend.
If there had been a real organization of Criticize-aholics Anonymous, I would have gone to my first meeting that night.
Writing online becomes huge
I did pretty well with being less critical for a while and then writing on the internet became a big thing.
All of a sudden, that need to tell people about all the things they were doing wrong showed up in my life again. I reverted back to correcting spelling, telling people they had used the wrong form of there, and explaining why their grammar was wrong.
Fortunately, my wife asked me why I was huffing and puffing while I was working online. I told her what my problem was in a very reasonable way.
She just looked at me and asked me, “What business is that of yours if they made a mistake?”
I explained again how important it was that I let them know of their errors. She asked me again, “What the ***>>:’*** business is that of yours? Are you so perfect you have extra perfection to afflict other people with?”
Then she told me, “Too bad C.A. isn’t a real organization, you need to go to a meeting.”
My wife is smart. I went back to working on my own writing instead of spending my valuable time telling other writers how wrong they were.
I made a lot more friends that way. I also found out that nobody wants me to read what they wrote if I have the reputation of being critical.
If you or someone you know has a problem with being critical there is help. Here are some things I’ve learned that might come in handy for you too.
1. I have the right to an opinion. I don’t have the right to share that opinion.
2. Language is fluid; nouns become verbs, verb endings change, words become shortened, back-formations run rampant, orthographic regularity has been a thing for barely 100 years, punctuation is often a matter of preference, and I don’t know everything.
3. If, after reading someone’s writing the most important thing to me is that they have a typo or a grammatical error, I’ve missed the point of their work.
4. Nobody needs to hear my opinion about the errors I think they’ve made.
5. Nobody deliberately puts errors in their work for me to find.
6. Many people in many parts of the world learn English as their first language. Standard American English is only one of the many varieties of English.
7. If my first thought in defense of my criticism is, “Well, if it was me, I would want to know,” — that idea is about me, not anyone else.
8. There is no such thing as constructive criticism. There is only criticism with a modifier in front of it to give the criticizer an excuse to be snarky.
9. If someone really wanted me to criticize their writing, they’d ask me to do that.
I am getting better one day at a time. It’s been a long journey and I am not at the end of it yet. But I am better, and for that I am grateful.
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