Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish [one’s] growth without destroying [their] roots.Frank A. Clark
I love watching people. While eating at a local restaurant, though, I saw a parent criticize their child’s artwork because they drew a car in the sky and cars don’t fly. The child was crushed.
At the table on the other side of me, two friends were ordering lunch. One, who was very thin, told the other, who was not, it was no wonder she couldn’t get a date since she was ordering a cheeseburger. The larger woman blushed crimson red, hung her shoulders, and told the waiter she’d have the lettuce wedge instead—with dressing on the side.
Every day, we hear how we would be smarter, look better, attract the mate of our dreams, or otherwise be fulfilled in life if only we would do things a certain way: avoid this food, do that exercise, or wear these clothes. These messages are everywhere—the shows we watch, social media, advertisements, at work, and when we gather with friends and community.
In telling us how much “better” we could be, these messages also tell us that we aren’t pretty enough, smart enough, good enough just as we are. Sure, there’s always room for improvement… but each of us also has value and potential just as we are.
My heart hurt for the woman sadly eating her lettuce wedge. I wanted to hug her and tell her she’s beautiful. Did her friend unknowingly plant the seeds of an eating disorder? Did the parent at the restaurant discourage a budding engineer who might someday design flying cars, or an artist whose imaginative work would delight millions?
What if we encouraged and celebrated each other for who we are? What if, instead of criticizing, we challenged with love, affirming the good we see in one another?
When the parent and child got up to leave, I noticed the child let their drawing fall to the floor. I picked it up. I made a point of saying they couldn’t possibly have meant to leave such a cool drawing behind, and asked the child to tell me about it. Their face lit up at that little bit of encouragement. I noticed—and so did the parent. As the parent took the picture, I smiled and suggested that they hang it on the refrigerator when they got home.
Spirit of Light, help me to see and encourage the light that shines from the soul of each of us. Guide my actions and temper my words so that I may kindle—and not smother—that flame in those I encounter today and every day.
[This essay was first published on Braver/Wiser, a part of the UUA Worship & Inspiration Resource, in March 2018.]
Rev. Connie Simon serves as minister of First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati. Prior to becoming a student at MLTS, graduating, and entering the ministry, she served as a lawyer, a political consultant, small business owner, an event planner, teacher, realtor, and program director for a non-profit. At the heart of each position has been a desire to serve others. Connie describes her ministry as “healing people from the inside-out so they can do the outside-in work our world so desperately needs.”