I often worry that I am too ready to be critical of others. When asking myself why that may be, I rationalize that people are encouraged to think critically and that this is seen as a good thing. So if it is good to think critically, why do I feel so bad when I am critical? How do you think critically without being critical? I turned to the internet for some definitions and what I found was that thinking critically and being critical were not really related at all but in fact were completely opposite ideas.
The definition I found for critical was “inclined to find fault or to judge with severity, often too readily” (dictionary.com), whereas for thinking critically I found this… “Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way… [People who think critically] are keenly aware of the inherently flawed nature of human thinking when left unchecked… They use the intellectual tools that critical thinking offers – concepts and principles that enable them to analyze, assess, and improve thinking. They work diligently to develop the intellectual virtues of intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual civility, intellectual empathy, intellectual sense of justice and confidence in reason. They realize that no matter how skilled they are as thinkers, they can always improve their reasoning abilities and they will at times fall prey to mistakes in reasoning, human irrationality, prejudices, biases, distortions, uncritically accepted social rules and taboos, self-interest, and vested interest.”~ Linda Elder, September, 2007 (found on criticalthinking.org).
So in essence being critical means judging someone else without putting much thought into it and thinking critically is all about being thoughtful, putting time and energy into examining the way that you think and whether or not your perspective of a given situation is accurate. Being critical is judging things outside yourself and thinking critically is examining a set of facts without prejudice and with the aim of finding the truth in your own mind.
My husband always says that I make everything a moral issue and I do. Why would I do any different? Why wouldn’t you think about what the right thing to do is and then act accordingly, instead of acting without thought and then rationalizing why it was the right thing to do, when in truth, it is merely what you wanted to do and whether it was right was never considered.
To answer the question that brought me here, the only way to avoid being critical, is to think critically. In order to think critically you must remove yourself from the question at hand and examine the issue rationally, with clarity and empathy. That last bit is the important part in my mind and the key to not being critical. If you truly strive to understand what might be motivating the other person’s behavior you might be more willing to give that person a break just the same as you might with your own behavior when, for example, you know you’ve had a headache all day and you snapped at someone for being too loud.
In my opinion the best way to avoid being critical of people, especially people you love, is to give them the benefit of the doubt. In the end the only thing you can really change about a situation is your attitude about it. Why not take a moment to examine your own mind and motivations critically and to decide if your criticisms might be better left unsaid.