Category Archives: Misc

The vulnerability in giving criticism

When you get complimented, you feel good about yourself and you feel good toward your complimenter. This is generally true even when you know the compliment isn’t genuine—knowing you’re being flattered doesn’t make the good feelings go away. We all understand this subconsciously, which is why it feels good to tell people nice things about them.

Conversely, when you get criticized, you feel bad about yourself and you feel bad toward your criticizer, especially when you’re criticized for something you’re insecure about. Your criticizer gets painted in your mind as a person passing judgment on you, telling you why you’re bad. This is often true even when you’re soliciting the criticism yourself and claiming you won’t take offense.

We all know this on some level, which is why it can be uncomfortable for us to give honest criticisms to people we care about. There’s a part of us that’s scared they’ll conceive of us as negative and judgmental, as people who secretly dislike them despite claims to the contrary… and we really don’t want people we like to think of us like this. In this way, giving honest negative feedback to someone we care about can actually be a huge display of vulnerability.

In light of this, I’ve come to see that asking a friend for honest criticism is more than just a mundane request for his observations. It’s also a request for his trust that I won’t reject him for his honest thoughts—which, for sensitive topics, can be an enormous thing to ask for.

Positive feedback is also really useful

I think one of the best ways to improve myself is to solicit criticisms from people I know well. For a while, I only valued criticism and didn’t seek out positive feedback. Asking for positive feedback never felt particularly valuable, and also felt socially inappropriate, since on some level it’s just me asking others to tell me how great I am.

I no longer see things this way. I now think positive feedback is very useful, for a couple of reasons:

  • Positive feedback counterbalances noisy negative feedback. If one person says they don’t really like the way you talk, you might think that’s an area you need to improve in, and divert a lot of energy to improving it. But if many more people actually love the way you talk—which you might never find out if you never ask—that energy would mostly be a waste.
  • Positive feedback reinforces what you’re doing well. If someone points out that I’m doing something well, I am both more conscious of it and more willing to do it in the future.
  • Positive feedback is great for bonding. Getting positive feedback makes me feel warm and fuzzy, and makes me feel closer with my friends. It also makes it more socially appropriate for me to give positive feedback, which leads my friends to feel warm and fuzzy and closer to me! What’s not to love here?


Materialism vs experientialism is a wrong dichotomy

Common life advice: don’t take pleasure in material goods. Seek experiences instead.

I think this is a wrong dichotomy. Not a false dichotomy, but a dichotomy that fails to capture what really matters. The proper advice isn’t “seek experiences, eschew materials”, but “seek utility, eschew dick-measuring”.

There are basically two reasons why we might want material goods. First, it’s useful to us in some way, or gives us pleasure. A fast laptop lets us work faster. Nice speakers let us enjoy music more.

Second, we might derive personal worth from it. We might feel pride in owning the latest model of a laptop. We might feel jealous when we see someone with nicer speakers than us.

These are the exact same two reasons why we might seek experiences. A trip abroad can relieve stress and clear the mind, improving productivity, and a delicious meal can be extremely pleasurable and impart fantastic memories. On the flip side, we may feel a smug superiority from having visited more countries than someone, or a pang of jealousy on hearing that a friend’s best meal was more luxurious than our own.

The materialism/experientialism dichotomy paints materialism as intrinsically bad and experientialism as intrinsically good. Neither is true. Materialism just tends to associate with dick-measuring, which is generally bad, while experientialism tends to associate with pleasure, which is generally good.

These associations are not universal, though. As a personal example, I noticed one day that I was hoarding “cool experiences”—places traveled, restaurants sampled, activities tried—in much the same way people hoard material possessions. I found myself taking pride in being able to tell cooler stories than the people around me. At times it was almost like I was purchasing invisible badges saying “I’ve experienced XYZ! Have you?”

This isn’t materialism, but it’s totally still a form of dick-measuring.

“I just want you to be happy!”

Why do we give gifts to loved ones? Because we care that they’re happy, and our gifts make them happy. Pretty straightforward, right?

I used to think so. But then I noticed a caveat—it’s not how happy a loved one is that matters, but how happy we make them. If all we really care about is their happiness, why is it so much more heartwarming to watch a friend unwrap a present when it’s given by us and not somebody else? If our friend is equally happy, shouldn’t we feel equally good?