Remember that REM song? I loved it.

A few days ago I talked about how to handle criticism if you’re an instructor and, if you’re a student, how to give criticism nicely.  People shared great input that I hope is helpful to everyone, instructors and students alike because, like it or not, we all get criticized.  Sometimes, criticism is justified and we really do have room for improvement.  But often, improvement will happen organically (through practice and experience) and criticism isn’t always helpful even if accurate.  It would be like lecturing a toddler on improving their walking skills.  They will improve as they mature and their motor skills develop.  Scrutinizing them critically won’t help.

Have you noticed how prevalent complaining, criticizing and comparing are in our culture?  Ever read magazines showing two female celebrities wearing the same dress and people vote to see who looked better?  Rather than recognizing two exceptionally beautiful women looking nice in an expensive dress, voters nitpick whether one girl’s hair color worked with the dress, or another girl’s handbag was the right color.

Or how about the television shows in which professional chefs are in competition to be the best — and a panel of judges must find cutting things to say about the food?  This food is boring or too fussy; that food is predictable. It’s probably better food than many of us eat! But interesting television isn’t made by praising people for their strengths but by embarrassing them for any perceivable weakness.

I know some of the allure of American Idol is watching people with no talent make fools of themselves just to be on TV. But as the season wears on, judges criticize talented performers on the stupidest things. My least favorite comment: “I just wasn’t feeling it.”  It’s a complaint with no substance. The purpose is to identify the performer as sub-par.  It’s amazing that people as well-fed, comfortable, safe and healthy as we are find endless entertainment in criticism!

Years ago, my mom, one of the most successful busineswomen I’ve ever known, recommended a book to me called The Greatest Salesman in the World. I loved this passage:

Always will I dig for reasons to applaud; never will I scratch for reasons to gossip. When I am tempted to criticize, I will bite my tongue; when I am moved to praise I will shout it from the roofs.

Do you notice a culture of complaining and criticism? Do you find it’s contagious? How do you stop yourself from nitpicking?