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2020-06-19

Remember, Faultfinding Makes People Worse

Practice of the Week
Remember, Faultfinding Makes People Worse

Category: Slogans to Live By: Carry these reminders at all times. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time -- but they will slow you down a bit (and that's a good thing.) Resolve to get stronger at living by these slogans, day by day. Sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling.


If something is bad, it’s bad. Don’t make it worse. If someone is a difficult, troublesome person, don’t make the person worse. Don’t elaborate the person’s many faults, and don’t begin acting toward xir in such a way that those very faults will become even more severe. The opposite idea is much better: without expecting someone to be any better than he or she is, act toward the person in a way that would minimize rather than maximize the problems.

It typically happens this way: someone is nasty or difficult because xe has an (actual or metaphorical) injured limb. Naturally xe is going to act like someone with an injured limb, and this is going to cause almost everyone to look at xir and say, “You’re a really terrible person.”

Usually we won’t say this to the person directly, we’ll say it to one another, and even then it might not be direct. It may be subtle, in jokes or offhand remarks.

Even if the person never directly hears what others think of xir, xe will surely get the message strongly enough. Now the injured person recognizes, “Oh, look at the way everyone treats me. I guess I really am a terrible person. I will show them something. You thought that was bad so far? How about this!” Thus bad behavior and bad self-view are reinforced, build upon themselves, and what was bad to begin with becomes worse and worse.

The way we treat injured people is very natural and logical, but the logic is essentially faulty. Instead of noting that a terrible person is terrible and, based on this, treating him as if he were terrible, it would be much better to treat the person with tremendous kindness exactly because xe is so terrible.

We think it is natural, and emotionally true, to be kind and sweet to people who are kind and sweet and to be terrible to terrible people. But it should be just the opposite. If we have to be denigrating and mean, it is better to be denigrating and mean to kind, sweet people, because it probably won’t bother them so much; or if it does bother them, it won’t ruin them completely, because they are already kind and nice, and although they may be somewhat hurt by our disrespect, it probably won’t ruin their character.

If we are kind and sweet to someone who is terrible and who, because of being terrible, is conditioned to being treated that way, our kindness might change xir. It might surprise xir or even shock xir into better behavior.

Faultfinding makes people worse. This applies to yourself, too. If you believe you are a terrible person, and you treat myself like a terrible person, you'll become more and more terrible.

Don’t make everything so painful. When things are painful with other people or within your own mind, try to identify the actual pain and the actual problem. Then focus on that. Try not to elaborate on it with complaining or a proliferation of thinking or words and deeds that will make it worse.

Adapted from Judith Lief, "Don't Bring Things to a Painful Point"

We all have lots of faults, and it is easy to get caught up in dwelling on them. It is easy to see all the things that are wrong about everyone and everything else as well. We may feel that we are doing somebody a favor by pointing out to xir where they fall short, convincing ourselves that we are only doing so for xir own benefit. But focusing on people’s most vulnerable areas, their most painful points, can undermine their confidence and their ability to go forward. Likewise, focusing on our own faults can be equally discouraging.

What happens with this focus on the negative is that our critical attitude becomes so entrenched that we can only see what is wrong, and we become blind to what is right. By finding fault with others, we may feel good about ourselves in comparison. But in order to keep feeling good, we need to keep finding new targets for our faultfinding, in order to shore ourselves up. Deep down we do not trust ourselves, so we need to keep convincing ourselves in this way.

According to this slogan, instead of pouncing on people’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities, we should be providing encouragement and support for their strengths. That is what we should notice and point out, not just what is wrong. The idea is that it is more skillful to encourage positive qualities than to criticize what is negative. With this approach, we are not using others to heighten our own confidence nor are we undermining other people’s confidence by reminding them of their inadequacies.

Practice. Notice the quality of faultfinding, which can take place on a light level or on a more going-for-the-jugular scale. When you find yourself caught in this pattern, notice your motivation. When you have difficulty with a person, can you see beyond xir faults? Can you find a positive potential to build on, even if it seems small?

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