When Should You Criticize Someone?

Being critical of someone else can be a tricky endeavor, even if it is well-intentioned. If you criticize, it might be interpreted as a personal attack. If they respond with a defensive posture, it might make effective communication more difficult.

When To Criticize

Sometimes, it is important to challenge someone else’s ideas or comments. If a friend or family member expresses an idea that you strongly disagree with, particularly if that idea is hurtful or dangerous, it should not remain unanswered.

By engaging with someone, you might be exposing him or her to a point of view they may not have encountered before. That can be a very valuable thing, particularly in this era of online bubbles of group-think.

But sometimes being critical does not serve any defined purpose. The person being criticized is unlikely to change, and might not even listen to the criticism. If all that can be achieved is hurt or angry feelings, then keeping silent may be a better course of action.

How To Criticize

So knowing when to criticize and when not to is important, but then so is knowing how to do it. How can you get someone to listen, to accept your opinion in a constructive way? How can you avoid a personal attack, or at least avoid such an appearance?

It can be a fine line between denouncing someone’s ideas and insulting who they are. A person’s strongly-held belief can be a cornerstone of their identity. In that case, condemning the idea may seem akin to condemning the person. That is no way to get someone to keep an open mind, and get them to consider other points of view.

So really, there are two closely-related questions: When should you criticize someone? And how should you criticize someone in order to get them to listen?

Related questions: How can we encourage debate? What words have the most power? How important is respect? What makes a good friend? How can we encourage meaningful conversation?

What Do You Want To Do Before You Die?

So far, no one has ever lived forever. Death comes for us all. When you are on your death bed, what do you want to have done before you die?

These things can fit into a few broad categories.

First, there are specific activities that you would do. Perhaps you want to experience the thrill that comes from jumping out of a plane. Or running a marathon.

Some people call this a “bucket list” — that is, things you want to do before kicking the bucket. Do you have such a list? What is on it? How long a list is it?

You have direct control over this list, of course, both what items get added as well as which tasks get performed.

A second category are things you would experience, but not necessarily do yourself. You might hope to see a child get married. Or have your favorite sports team win a championship. Or experience the first human on Mars.

Obviously, you have much less control over these events. The main thing you can do is probably to live long enough to increase the odds that these things will happen before you die.

Another category includes generalities. Perhaps you hope to leave a lasting legacy to future generations. Or be remembered fondly by your friends and family. You might want to embody a particular trait, like generosity or punctuality.

You have some control over these outcomes. However, your desires and reality may not always agree. Maybe you want to be generous, but you simply don’t have the means to do so.

Have you given any thought to how you want the rest of your finite time to play out? What do you want to do before you die? What are you doing to make these hopes come to pass?

Related questions: How do you define success? How do you set priorities? Why are people afraid of death? What is your favorite experience? What book do you mean to read but haven’t?