Dealing with Criticism

"To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing." - Elbert Hubbard

Putting yourself out into the world is a surefire way to invite criticism. All who do encounter those who detract. Yet is there really any other way one would want to be in the world?

When we embark on a new pursuit like swordplay, or dance, or writing, we must necessarily put ourselves in a place where others might have opinions about what we're doing or how we're doing it.

"Why would you do that?" "You look like a fool!" "That's silly."

Whether these judgments are truly expressed by others or simply by the voices in our head, they easily hold us back from starting and sticking.

Parse Feedback from Negativity

Feedback is important in any pursuit but only when it's offered in a way that is useful. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is there valuable information in the statement?
  2. Does the person have my best interest at heart?
  3. Does this person or statement have an agenda I need to consider?

If there is value and positive interest in your direction, perhaps you're not meeting with detraction but useful criticism. How can you take what they're offering and help it to spur you on and make you better? The more you learn to process feedback the easier it comes to receive it and the more you can build a positive association with it.

Change Antagonists to Allies

Many people are simply made uncomfortable by the striving of others, be it jealousy or their own internal struggles.

If they're close to you, consider asking them for help: "This pursuit is important to me. I need your help to stay on track and stay invested. Will you give me your support and feedback in this way... ?" Remember that your actions teach those around you how you want to be treated. Set boundaries with your loved ones to transform them from detractors into allies.

Filter the Bad from the Good

If there is no value or the agenda at work is a negative one, consider whether you should listen to the feedback at all:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." - Theodore Roosevelt

Finally, know that there is no minimum size for your daring. To be in the world trying, expressing, experimenting and touching those things you love or might love, is daring aplenty.

Devon Boorman is the Co-Founder and Director of Academie Duello Centre for Swordplay, which has been active in Vancouver, Canada since 2004. Devon’s expertise centres on the Italian swordplay tradition including the arts of the Renaissance Italian rapier, sidesword, and longsword, as well as knife and unarmed techniques.
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