by Todd Fulginiti

I was driving downhill towards a fairly sharp curve and could see the blue pick-up truck as it entered the turn from the opposite direction, going way too fast.  He turned his wheel hard, but could barely make it, sliding nearly sideways across both lanes, his back wheels having kicked up a cloud of dirt from their visit onto the farmland just off the shoulder.  

He squared up into his own lane about 25 feet before I passed.  Way too close for comfort. Frustrated by his reckless endangerment of both myself and him, (he was too fast to have innocently misjudged the road) I threw my hand up, palm out, in a gesture that said, “Come on man!  What the hell?!”

His response was predictable.  An extended middle finger and a shout of profanity as he passed.  What else did I expect?  This is America, the land of un-reproachable individualism.

Nobody can tell us anything.  Either because we think we know better or because we believe that nobody has a right to call us out on any subject.

That idiotic truck driver nearly injured himself and was seconds away from taking me down too, but how dare I criticize him for risking my life?

Many of us act like that truck driver.  Of course nobody likes to be criticized, but rather than first reflect on the criticism, assessing its accuracy and value, we too often “flip off” the criticizer as if the situation is actually their fault, not ours. How dare they pass any type of judgment on us whatsoever?  

Our defensiveness is immature.  And it can’t continue without eroding society like a nor’easter on the beach.

Assuming good manners and/or professionalism are maintained, how do we react to our boss when they ask us to improve or to do something differently at our job?  How do we react if our spouse lets us know why they’re upset with us?  What if a friend tells us something we don’t want to hear, but need to for our own good?

It’s our responsibility as adults to listen to the message being given, and hold it for a while. Explore it. Consider it.  Does the message have merit?  What do we need to take responsibility for? Do we need to apologize?  Do we need to change? How do we do that?

We are not without reproach and we need to stop acting like we are. 

On the flipside, we also should not have to live in fear of retaliation if we need to voice legitimate criticisms to others.  

Ask a store employee (at the height of Covid) why they wouldn’t enforce the stores’ own Covid masking policy.  The answer was typically that management had told them not to confront customers about masks because it puts the employee in a potentially dangerous situation.  The non-masker is essentially saying, “Who are you to criticize me for not obeying the rules on your property.”

Across society and in all its forms, our failure to accept reproach, coupled with our sometimes reluctance to offer it, combine to create a culture that lacks individual accountability, under-values expertise, and weakens the group as a whole.

We see this everywhere, in situations both important and trivial.

The quarterback throws a bad ball but blames the incompletion on the receiver.

The patient tells the doctor why it’s best to get or not get a treatment.

The student cries foul to their parents when the teacher holds them accountable for their misbehavior, and the parents side with the student.

The politician breaks the law and isn’t convicted for it. Or receives a subpoena, doesn’t show up, and goes unpunished.

And the list goes on.

Why are we afraid to hear, let alone accept, criticism?  Why do we find it so difficult to self-reflect, learn, admit mistakes, and change course?  Although uncomfortable, it would certainly lead to better outcomes and more growth, both individually and as a culture.

I’ve screwed up many times in my life, and I’m not finished yet.  So have you.  As humans, that’s how we roll.  The next time one of our mistakes is brought to our attention, let’s take a breath and examine the news.  If it has merit, let’s use it to better ourselves as we move on.  We’ll be happier and more mature, and our community will be stronger for it.

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