Kin Lane

Being Able to Take Criticism and Dissenting Opinions

Historically, I am a pretty short-tempered, low patience, and generally grumpy individual. Any number of things will set me off, but in my experience it is often something unrelated to whatever is going on in the moment, and more related to me and the shaky foundation my reality was built upon. Over the last five years I have grown more capable in being able to identify that something else is happening, allowing me to avoid losing my head in the moment. Not always, but in more cases I am able to either address or step away from the immediate situation, then make an attempt to dig at and process what is actually going on with me. One of the hardest areas for me as a smart (at least I think I am) white male pushing fifty who does not have a college degree, is in the area of being able to take criticism from others, and depending on the topic, be able to keep my cool, respond intelligently, and contribute and learn from a situation in a positive way.

My response to criticism is something I’ve written about before, and I am sure I will write about another 20+ times before I really unpack this one. At this point in my journey I’d say my inability to take criticism from others begins with me never having gone to a University where my ideas would be challenged, but I’d say more importantly, I never lived outside one of the white communities in the region where I grew until the last decade. Which means I was never exposed to any non-white ideas before the age of 30, and was pretty comfortable with the whitewash history I was raised on, and the white supremacist view of the world I have inherited. You end up pretty soft when you grow up in this reality. You never really get equipped to present your ideas properly, let alone defend them in any intelligent way. In this environment, you are never forced to actually develop your ideas in any way that will require them to hold up to scrutiny. More damaging, you never had to receive ideas from people who don’t look like you, act like you, and see the world exactly as you do, so when you do begin to be bombarded with challenges to your world view, they always seem like an attack. When I first moved to NYC just the diverse voices on the street seem hostile and assaulting to me, let alone an individual or group of people directly questioning my world view. Living in a diverse city was loud and new, and having new ideas pushed on my seemed like an assault on who I was, and where I came from.

When you get that ruffled feeling when someone is saying something you don’t agree with, or questioning something you just said, it can be difficult to navigate when you don’t have a lot of world experience. If you aren’t used to it you tend to lash out. It takes practice to keep your cool, and maintain a clear head. Let alone actually be in a position where you can receive information. Your first emotion as a white man is to just overwhelm with words and possibly getting louder and more physically intimidating to make your point. If it something about race, gender, or other territory which you are not very aware, making a joke may be your first line of defense, but in the face of sustained questioning you are likely to get pretty hot under the collar. Really it all comes down to experience for me, and not just reading experience, but listening experience. If you have been down this road, read sufficiently on a topic, and paid your dues listening to others, you might be equipped to accept being called out, taking criticism, and entertain dissenting opinions. If you aren’t, your only logical path is to shut your mouth and listen. Maybe occasionally asking a question. Especially if you are feeling agitated, uncomfortable, and feeling like you’ve done something wrong. For me, it is a sign of some underlying issue, lack of awareness, and general ignorance when it comes to a topic-—which is OK. What is not cool though, is opening your mouth and putting your foot in it.

I am learning that reading a lot of books significantly helps my position. Especially reading books from a lot of diverse voices. My goal is to not just learn to listen and take criticism, but actually be able to contribute to the conversation constructively. If I made a mistake in how I was saying something, or I am speaking from an uninformed position, I want to be able to ask more questions that will help me evolve. I am also looking to intelligently defend my position and view of an issue when appropriate. If I can do so calmly, confidently, and from a positive position, I will do so. If I feel uncomfortable, combative, or on shaky ground I am almost always going to move into a position where I am actively backing down and defusing a situation—-stepping away completely if at all possible. I just don’t fully trust myself in some situations. I know enough now to know that I am wildly ignorant of many things going on in the world around me, and I am curious enough about this these days that I will just assume I am on the wrong side of the discussion. In my 20s I thought I was just hot tempered, but in my 40s I realize I was just ignorant, and in my 50s I am determine to be more informed. I am determined to be able to better take criticism, and listen to dissenting opinions, making more room for diverse voices in my world. Doing it with grace and an open mind, fixing years of bad behavior when my ideas are challenged.