How to Take Criticism
What about criticism? I am always being asked if it troubles me, or makes me angry, or hurts me. Should we be affected by criticism regardless of its source? In private life, of course, criticism is limited to friends and relatives and you live as you choose, and please or displease a limited group.
Curiosity centers, I imagine, about people in the public eye where there is an almost unlimited field for those who wish to criticize. If you listened to them all, would you ever do anything?
Many people feel there is an advantage to doing nothing. It is rather comfortable, you do not have to exert yourself physically or mentally. You can accept all of the privileges that come to you, and have no responsibilities. You are to be envied if your conscience lets you do it!
One of the things which my critics most frequently stress is the fact that I am not elected to any office, therefore, I can have no sense of responsibility, they say, since no one elected or appointed me to any office, so it is clear that I must be seeking publicity.
Let me disabuse them of that idea. People who live in a gold fish bowl cannot escape publicity. It is obvious that the President's wife is not an elected official, but she has certain obligations. First, there is the obligation to run the President's house, his official house, the White House, paying due attention to all the rules and regulations which custom and the law lay down for the running of that House, which belongs to the people of the United States. This is an obligation on which there is little difference of opinion and if I confined myself to giving parties, even in wartime, my critics would be few, I imagine, though one cannot be sure!
The differences arise in regard to other activities. As the President's wife, a great many people throughout the United States think that you can get information for them which they cannot get themselves, or help them to accomplish certain things which they cannot accomplish themselves. In both of these situations, they are quite correct sometimes in appealing to you, and you are able without any impropriety to give them information, and sometimes to impart the information they give you to the proper people. There is one area, however, where criticism of any individual would be entirely valid. A good many people think that because of your husband's position, you can exert influence to obtain favors which they could not obtain on their own merits. If you did this, you would quite rightly be criticized.
All you can do with propriety is to give the facts as you know them to the proper officials and leave them free to investigate and proceed as they see fit.
In the natural course of events, however, you get to know a good deal about the country and its people, and conditions and situations as they exist. This gives you an opportunity perhaps to be of service and here is where criti-cism centers.
Should the President's wife, who is not elected to any office, be interested in working conditions, for instance? She can have rare opportunities for knowing about hem if she has eyes, ears and understanding. Should she be blind, deaf and dumb?
There is no question about it--all criticism is entirely permissible. There are no laws as to your conduct, you are a citizen, free like any other, so you live by your own judgment, tastes and conscience. Hence the question is "How much attention should the individual criticized pay to criticism?"
No human being enjoys being disliked so it would be normal to try to avoid actions which bring criticism. When it comes to deciding on whether you will be a Dresden china figure, daintily placed on the mantelpiece, and thus avoid any criticism, or lead a strictly personal life when the world is rocking on its foundations, or of facing criticism and at least trying to live as an independent citizen of the United States, considering it your duty to use such opportunities as come your way for service as you see it, then the decision for certain people will be easy. They will do and be damned, but the others who won't do, what of them? You might expect them to be praised but that is not the way it works. In these situations you're damned if you do and damned if you don't!
In the last analysis you have to be friends with yourself twenty-four hours of the day. If you run counter to others now and then, you have enemies, but life would become unbearable if you thought about it all of the time, so you have to ignore the critics. You know quite well when you face audiences and are among crowds of people, that perhaps everybody present dislikes you cordially. Then you do your best to make others see your point of view, but if you cannot win them over, you still must go on your way because each human being has an obligation to do what seems right according to his own conscience. If you are honest, you will always be your own most severe critic.
There are two kinds of criticism which come to us all in this world. One is constructive criticism. To be really constructive, criticism must come to us from people whom we know and whose judgment we trust and who we feel really care, not only for us as individuals, but for the things which may be affected by the actions or attitudes which we take.
Destructive criticism is always valueless and anyone with common sense soon becomes completely indifferent to it. It may, of course, be cruel at times.
Sometimes it may be unjust and bring the individual a certain amount of bitterness, but I think any sensible person soon learns to recover from the bitterness and to ignore the cruelty.
To do anything constructive or creative in this world, people must have some self-confidence. Therefore people who love them must always be careful even in giving their honest criticism and opinions, not to destroy completely an individual's faith in his own judgment!
It is sometimes better to let people make mistakes and learn from experience. This may be less harmful than being criticized, and told over and over that something you are doing is wrong or inadvisable. Everyone who launches forth on constructive criticism should bear in mind the fact that it is sometimes hard to put oneself in anyone else's shoes. What might be right for you may be quite wrong for someone else, because they approach life from a different angle. In addition, I think that if you care about people you sometimes allow your judgment to become clouded and criticize with a view to preventing them from doing things which you feel will bring them the diffi-culties of general criticism when as a matter of fact, succumbing to such considerations would perhaps be more painful than all the outside criticism could ever be.
Fear for those we love is one of the reasons that many of us are critical and it is something which we should weigh very carefully before expressing ourselves.
The people who love you may help you greatly, however, with some types of criticism. People whom you have never met but whom you admire, can through their example, give you inspiration, and frequently what they are and what they do and say, will form the basis on which you criticize your own actions.
To spend your life, however, thinking about "what will be said," would result in a compleely unprofitable and embittering existence. Since one of the chief things that human beings can do to be helpful in life, is to be cheerful, it would indeed be foolish to dwell upon the criticism of those who can know little about you, who do not take the trouble to verify their facts, and who frequently have ulterior motives for the things which they say or write.
I think it is salutary to read criticisms, even unkind and untrue ones. I do when they happen to come my way in the natural course of events. I do not seek them out, but they certainly tend to keep one from being overconfident or getting what is commonly known as the "swelled head," but all of us must be wary not to have our confidence in ourselves completely destroyed, or we will be unable to do anything. Some criticisms I read and forget. Some remain with me and have been very valuable because I know they were kindly meant and honest and I admired and believed in the integrity of the people who expressed their convictions which were opposed to mine.
I would not want the people I love and who are most often with me to withhold criticism, but since those are the people you must count on for giving you the courage to live with a purpose, they are the ones who have the greatest responsibility to make their criticism constructive, since they know you will pay attention to them.
Sometimes criticisms I have read have seemed unjustified and unkind, and sometimes they have annoyed or hurt me, but I learned long ago that the world is not based on universal justice! One should not expect it, so I think that I have developed a great indifference except where people in whom I believe are involved. I can honestly say that I hate no one, and perhaps the best advice I can give to anyone who suffers from criticism and yet must be in the public eye, would be contained in the words of my aunt, Mrs. William Sheffield Cowles. She was President Theodore Roosevelt's sister and the aunt to whom many of the young people in the family went for advice. I had asked her whether I should do something which at that time would have caused a great deal of criticism, and her answer was: "Do not be bothered by what people say as long as you are sure that you are doing what seems right to you, but be sure that you face yourself honestly."
Friendship with oneself is all important because without it, one cannot be friends with anyone else in the world.