I love a good underdog story. I have not done any research, but if the present direction Hollywood is taking movies is any indicator, most of America likes underdogs too. Why shouldn’t they? The little guy finds his inner strength and overcomes insurmountable odds to save the day. It is heart-warming, and perhaps more importantly, we see it as our story.
So when they see that story played out in front of them it is only natural that people root for the side they see as most similar to their’s: We are the innocent. We are the ones overcoming evil. After all, no one wants to see themselves as the villain.
But we see real life villains all the time, don’t we? Your mind may go to recent school shootings or large-scale corruption cases, but I am specifically referring to the average villain we deal with:
- The school bully that made high school a living hell.
- The woman down the street who constantly gossips and spreads rumors.
- The coworker who throws people under the bus for his own personal gain.
- The internet stalker who leaves awful comments on everything you post.
From this point on, I will refer to people in these roles as “Critics”. We watch these people’s actions and we ask ourselves, “What is their problem?!”
Most People are Genuinely Good.
Now I may have a few people disagree with me on this part, but I want to take a second to recognize that in my experience, when any of the above-mentioned critics lash out, there are more than a few good people that step in to the defense of the victim. We extend so much, as well. We say things like, “You did not deserve that” and do our best to comfort them in response to what feels so unfair. They metaphorically dust themselves off, having overcome something painful and maybe made a few new friends! A (mostly) happy ending.
Then almost daily, you hear people say things like, “If only there were more love in the world” and “All you need is love”. I know…now you need to hear the song to get it out of your head…
And you think, “Yeah, if that bully from earlier only knew that love was the answer to everything…there wouldn’t be conflict if everyone just loved each other.” Unfortunately there is something fundamental missing here…
The Missing Piece
In the scenario earlier, there is no doubt that our response to the victim is love. It is human nature to love the victim, the helpless, the underdog. We know that they deserve better. But what about the critic? Do we just shake our heads and our fists at them and assume that they will change?
I think it’s worth being overly clear here: This does not work. Shame never has, and never will be enough to change engrained behaviors. What changes it is loving connection. The same exact connection that you had with the undeserving victim, is what will change the critic’s ways. Because the truth is, hurt people hurt people.
Loving the critic is a difficult task. It is literally deciding to turn away from anger, and toward compassion. Even when the person is undeserving of that compassion in that moment. I will address how we can begin to do this in a moment, but first I would like to address the question of, “why?”
Why Show Love to the Critic?
A few days ago, I was able to watch a coworker do some intensive group therapy with a young girl who had some pretty severe self-hatred in her life. The therapist set up three chairs facing each other, and they were labeled:
The therapist had the girl sit in the critic chair, and say all the awful things she tells herself out loud. Things like, “You are ugly”, “You are selfish”, and “Nobody likes you.” Then the girl sits in the chair labeled criticized and talks about what it was like to hear those words out loud. Then the girl moves to the compassionate chair, and the therapist has her speak words of love to herself. Things like, “You are beautiful”, “You are humble”, and “You are loved.”
I was smitten by this exercise from the beginning, but then the therapist says, “That was wonderful, but I wonder if you would be willing to speak that kindly to the critic as well.” The girl was instantly stumped. She had just treated herself like garbage, and now this colleague of mine was asking her to be kind to the meanest, ugliest part of herself. And that was when it hit me:
This is where we all fall short. No one knows how to love the critic.
We connect with underdogs because we see ourselves in them. But if we were to be honest with ourselves, there is a little bit of us in the villain as well. We all have an inner critic. The girl in the therapy session was able to see that part of herself and show it compassion, and I believe she will forever be changed by her experience. My hope, then, has become that we can all take a lesson from her, and love the person who is pushing love away the hardest.
How In The World…
“That’s a great little anecdote there, but this is not therapy. People are not just beating themselves up, they are hurting others.”
That is true, and yes, that makes it all the harder to love them in the moment. We spout these ideas about love as if it is everyone else’s job to do the loving. If someone had loved the critic, or the bully, or the gossip better, they probably would not be acting that way. So guess what, now it’s our job!
That does not make it easy. So I want to give you a couple of steps that you can take towards loving the critic:
- Slow down – Reactivity is the enemy of mature dialogue, and ultimately, love and compassion. You know yourself better than anyone, so take time to recognize when you are being pulled towards a response that is less than you are capable of.
- Recognize the Common Humanity – The only thing that we all have in common as humans is failure. We all make mistakes and get mislead, and if we can be in touch with our flaws in moments when people are demonstrating their’s, we can show them the love they need.
- Curb Judgments – Life is hard enough. Why add difficulty by placing our labels on it? A simple replacement thought can be, “I do not have to agree with it for it to be what it is”.
- Reach Out – Recently, I had a moment where a friend of mine was making decisions that I felt were unkind and frankly unacceptable. In the moment just before I lashed out, I stopped and instead texted a mutual friend and simply asked, “How do I love her in this moment?” There is no one better to guide you towards love than anyone who is not personally effected by the situation.
Showing compassion is not about what anyone has done to deserve it. All of us have skeletons in our closet that we do not deserve kindness or compassion around…but when we choose to show love anyway, we can change the lives of people around us. The critic needs as much love as the criticized, and when they receive it is when change begins.
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