Before a student can be considered as being psychologically prepared for the often revelatory process of learning about the self, they must first be certain that they are open to all the information that might come their way that will serve to facilitate this process. Unfortunately, this is not as simple as being prepared and willing to learn – it requires that a student be capable of accepting things that may not consider them in a position light.
In order for a person to learn about themselves, at least as far as Jedi Realism is concerned, it is often appropriate and useful for them to seek an external perspective on the ways in which other people perceive them: what they see to be our strengths and weaknesses, what their impressions are regarding our attitude and overall behaviour, and even taking into consideration one’s aesthetic presentation. When provided with such feedback, it can be very easy to feel as though we are being criticised negatively, or even been personally attacked, and as a result, a person can become defensive, and even close themselves off to the truth of what they hear.
This, as you may well imagine, can be hugely counter-productive when seeking to learn about oneself. Often, those defensive mechanisms that are created as a response to criticism are the consequence of one’s own ego: criticism attacks our sense of self, and the belief that there is absolutely nothing ‘wrong’ with us, thus indicating that the other person is mistaken, lying or attempting to insult us. But since this is not often the case, it becomes inappropriate and even dangerous to simply fall back onto ego-protective defense mechanisms.
Obviously, when we are seeking to explore our own natures with a view to creating changes and promoting our own personal development, we must approach criticism in a manner that allows us to take it onboard without letting our sense of self throw up defensive obstacles in the way. Before I discuss how this can be achieved, I would first like to draw your attention to the possible responses one might have to criticism.
Types of Critical Response
The most positive response we can hope for is that of Acceptance: the process whereby you are offered criticism (of either a positive or negative nature) and, upon receipt of this, you choose either to accept this as being entirely true, or as being reflective of part of your nature. In this latter case, you would have to allow for some misunderstanding on the part of the person providing the criticism, since they do not have the benefit of seeing things from your perspective, which as you might suspect is likely to possess a deeper understanding of your motives.
I also ought to note that acceptance of destructive criticism, which is often exaggerated and designed purely to be malicious, can be problematic, since this can lead to the individual receiving it to feel negative about themselves, and such a particular downward spiral can easily lead to a decrease in confidence, as well as susceptibility to depression. Thus, if faced with such criticism, you may wish to seek a second opinion from a neutral party, or simply consider the possibility of the statement(s) being true, while yet refusing to take them to heart without supporting evidence to reinforce the original conclusion provided to you.
The next response to criticism would be to meet it with indifference. You are, essentially, receiving the criticisms offered with a particular lack of care: you are either ignoring what you are being told, or treating it as though such feedback is irrelevant to you. As a rule, this is a consequence of the criticism being contrary to what you personally believe to be true, or simply because you have chosen not to be receptive to feedback regarding yourself.
To some extent, this is much the same as denial, the only real difference between them being that indifference is passive, rather than proactive. Thus, rather than taking time to further consider what you have been told, you simply cease to give it any consideration at all – therefore preventing you from gaining any benefit from what has been said.
Ignoring criticism is, perhaps, one of the most dangerous possible responses to stimuli, since it can lead to complacency, which can only result in actions that are often either compulsive or badly thought out to begin with. When we fail to heed criticism, we cannot easily perceive when we are doing things incorrectly, except in the case of feeling insecure or lacking in confidence regarding that particular task in the first place. As a result, only by being mindful of criticisms can we seek to make changes in those things which others observe.
We move next to a more mindful response: denial. In this instance, one becomes aware of feedback, and thus has the opportunity to reflect upon it. However, the response is contingent on flatly denying that which you have been told, either by saying as much to the person that is the source of that feedback (this being called expressive denial), or by remaining silent and yet denying that criticism within your own mind (introspective denial).
Denying the truth of criticism to the source can often be used to conceal feelings or thoughts from others, even when you understand it to be true, though this is primarily a conscious denial, rather than one made as a consequence of reflexive response. I ought to note that such can easily be used for positive observations as well as for criticism: denying one’s own talents or abilities is often considered reflective of personal modesty, even when internally, the truth of the matter is known to be contrary to that which is expressed to others. Of the two forms, however, it is this introspective denial that poses the greatest danger in this regard.
This is due to the fact that repeated introspective denials can have an effect akin to negative autosuggestion: through constantly denying something, you can unconsciously lead yourself into believing that something is not true when it is, or vice versa. This thus blinds you to what could well be an important understanding in your search for self-knowledge.
Often combined with Denial is the response of Justification: upon being presented with a criticism, rather than directly denying the truth of the observation, you instead deny that the behaviour in question is counterproductive. Thus, you are consciously aware of the trait being criticised, and perhaps perceive it as being inappropriate or overly anti-social, but nonetheless consider it useful, thus causing you to refute that such behaviour has a negative effect due to what has been gained from using it.
This in itself is a very problematic reaction: justifying a trait due to what you have gained in using it essentially suggests that you consider the means by which you make achievements to be inconsequential compared to what you have gained. As you can imagine, this is something that can easily be abused, and anyone intending to train as a Jedi should refrain from such an approach.
That observed, Justification can also be used in a positive light. Were you, for example, to be criticised for being overconfident, it might well be appropriate to observe that this is just a consequence of wishing to remain positive, and you thus balance outward overconfidence with an inner understanding of your own limitations. The important thing to recognise here is that, with any justification response, you must be consciously aware of that which is being subjected to criticism.
The next potential response is a more interactive response: rather than having an unequivocal response to criticism, you subject the one providing such feedback to questioning. This can have one of two purposes: to expose a flaw in their argument that can then be exploited, to deny their feedback or to come to an understanding of how they gained their impressions, or otherwise to learn more about their perceptions, in particular focusing on context.
There are several advantages and disadvantages to this. Firstly, it does permit you to gain a more detailed analysis of how others perceive you, which in turn permits you to learn more about how you present yourself outwardly. However, this can certainly create issues if the person you are questioning takes offense to such a response, perceiving it as a provocation, rather than as a simple request for clarification and elaboration.
Moreover, if the criticism is intended in the destructive sense, questioning can serve only to inflame the situation. Finally, if questioning is used as a method of denying the criticism, this merely reinforces a lack of ability to accept such feedback, which is naturally counterproductive to Jedi.
Finally, we move to transference and self-recrimination. In the first instance, you are aware of the truth of a criticism directed at you, but rather than accepting it, you seek instead to place the responsibility on the shoulders of another: “they made me do it”, or “I wouldn’t have reacted that way if you hadn’t done that”, and so on. Alternatively, blame could instead be placed on environmental factors, rather than being transferred to another person.
Regardless, this only serves to demonstrate a lack of personal responsibility, in itself contrary to fundamental Jedi principles. This would be something that a student would need to work on before being able to progress with their training, since such practise is both inappropriate as well as unethical: transference is almost always engaged in with conscious awareness and malicious intent.
In the second instance, rather than transferring blame onto another, the individual receiving criticism instead turns blame back upon themselves, thus feeling guilt which, in and of itself, can either serve to motivate change or, in the negative sense, create a diminished sense of self-worth. This is, of course, counterproductive to the process of Personal Development, and rarely intended by the one offering criticism, unless it is designed to be destructive in nature.
That observed, self-recrimination is often usually applied only by those who tend to use negative introspection, likely already having significant confidence issues to begin with, which would need to be remedied before the student concerned could make any significant progress in their training or course of development.
Accepting Feedback Positively
Moving on from responses to criticism, it might be useful to discuss methods by which one can effectively be receptive to such feedback without automatically responding in a less than desirable manner i.e. using a reply that isn’t essentially accepting of what you have been told. There are two basic approaches: a pro-active psychological state that is best equipped for acceptance of criticism, while the other is more reactive: a system of expressional restraint, focused on awareness of one’s basic stimuli-response mechanisms.
The first of the two is primarily derived from a combination of confidence that is appropriately tempered by humility, in addition to an almost unshakeable sense of self – essentially, the student must be comfortable with themselves. As a rule, this is one of the things which training in Personal Development seeks to achieve, and rarely will students be accepting of criticism on the basis of this method when first beginning their training. Likewise, it is far less common for younger practitioners to be in such a position, since many will have only begun to consolidate their personalities, understanding themselves in a deeper manner that they would have previously wielded.
The technique itself operates on the understanding that, when a person is possessed of a solid core, such that they are confident in themselves and understanding of both their strengths and weaknesses, when someone directs criticism towards them, they are able to consider this in a more objective way, simply because they understand the origin of the criticism (the result of patience, tolerance and an openness to learning), and realise that there may well be some truth to it, so will thus consider it without taking offense.
The second approach is one more easily adopted in the earlier stages of one’s training, since it is dependent only upon a student’s awareness of themselves in the present moment, rather than requiring any larger and persistent psychological awareness. Essentially, a student must remain alert for criticisms directed at them, and exercise sufficient self-control to prevent them from expressing any initial emotional reaction they might have to said feedback. Once they have achieved this, they must exert conscious choice over their overall reaction. To attain this, it helps for a student to understand the different potential reactions they might express, and also to realise that, in most instances, the criticism thus provided serves a useful purpose (although that mindset very much helps in both instances).
Although, invariably, it is sometimes far too much to hope that all students will be in a position to openly accept criticism when entering into a course of personal development, failing to do so can cause huge difficulties in one’s overall training and, indeed, when it comes to the practice of Jedi Realism. Should a student have issues in this regard, they will find that those will need to be resolved fairly earlier on in the training programme, to prevent any of the aforementioned consequences being realised.
Certainly, as you progress onwards, you will have many opportunities to see ways in which acceptance of criticism will greatly enhance your understanding of the experience. To a very great extent, this is the first test of how you cope under adverse conditions, and it is truly a fundamental part of coming to accept yourself for the person that you are. The benefits, consequently, should never be overlooked!