Is Criticism Helpful?

I tend to check Facebook about 3 times per day, each visit for work purposes. It used to be that during one of those checkins I’d enjoy scrolling through my feed, catching up with friends, and learning about changes occurring in life—like new jobs or children. But along the way, many of my fitness peers began to clog my feed (which was my own fault), and a disturbing trend began to emerge that seems deeply entrenched in the health and fitness community.

Hate, vitriol, and endless complaining about every training method and different fitness personalities oftentimes became the only topic for discussion. I have no problem with the occasional joke or people airing their grievances because many aspects and theories deserve discussion, but that comes with a big caveat:

Does your criticism provide any type of actionable advice that will help people?

Or is it just a passive aggressive attack designed to reinforce your own beliefs so that others can “like” your status?

Think about it. We share our opinions and beliefs so that we can influence others and promote progressive thoughts, actions, and behaviors. We’ve all been in positions where we’ve been criticized—both in deserving and undeserving situations. As an employee and a boss, I’ve seen it from both angles. I’ve never had an issue with criticism. In fact, I encourage it. I’m the guy who walks around with a chip on his shoulder at all times. Find my flaws and it will fuel me to become better. But when my mistakes or inadequacies are identified, I want the criticism to be directional not static.

Directional means the feedback—although potentially hurtful—shows me how I can improve. It’s a path to becoming better. Static criticism is a dead end that leaves you swimming in a sea of negativity with no real use or purpose other than identifying a problem and offering no construction solution for improvement. After all, even the most egregious mistakes are sometimes not deliberate, but instead a matter of not knowing or having a difference in opinion.

So tell me: why even bother with static criticism? What does bitching, moaning, castigating, or complaining about someone else’s style accomplish?

 Are you helping people?

Are you benefiting people?

Are you undoing some sort of wrong?

No, no, and no. All it does is create negativity and a mentality of talking rather than doing. Complaining rather than changing.

Everyone is entitled to their beliefs and their style. Our job is not to make the world become some homogenous breed of lemmings. It will not happen, would be boring, and could even halt progress, diversity, and new discoveries. How many times have great ideas and people initially been viewed as outcasts?

That’s not to say that some information isn’t bad or doesn’t deserve criticism. But it’s the blind criticism that is dangerous. The personal attack without any direction of what someone should be doing or what might be better.

People are different. They respond to different information, different personalities, and have different learning styles. (I recommend Lynn Sarasin’s book, “Learning Style Perspectives” for a good primer. It’s based on an educational model, but still very valuable for understanding how different people digest different types of information.)

An important lesson in life is developing an understanding that you can’t control the decisions or actions of others. What you can do is share your thoughts and opinions in a way that promotes critical thinking and allows people to use the directional criticism to make an informed decision.

Don’t like what someone is doing? Don’t complain about it—do something about it.

Spread your message. Spread your beliefs. Share your “truth”—and do so in a way that will educate, inform, and empower. The rest is up for people to decide.

If someone disagrees with you? So what. Keep working hard to share your information and do what you can to help people and inform.

When you focus on being right (about everything) and try to please everyone, in the end you please no one. And if you try to convince the world that your way is right and others is wrong—without actually providing any information that can help—well, you just come across as pompous. And the entire purpose of your rant is undercut by the fact that you didn’t do anything about the very issue that made you upset. This applies to all areas of life, and is certainly not limited to fitness.

Promote good. Inspire change. And share thoughts that people can use. That’s the real value of blogs, social media, video, and all forms of human interaction.

We won’t all agree—and we shouldn’t all agree. But we should create an environment that allows people to learn. And in the end, hopefully the best information will rise to the top.

Make it Count,


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