One day Akbar called Birbal to his side and drew a line on a plain sheet of paper. Then he handed over the paper to his intelligent minister, and asked him to make the line shorter. One way would have been to take an eraser and rub a portion of the line to make it shorter. But Birbal did not take this option, he drew another line, which was longer than the one drawn by Akbar.
This story teaches one to make an effort to uplift oneself, rather than try to belittle someone else in order to become superior. Unfortunately, the later option is more tempting since it is that much easier to do. No wonder, it is quite natural to find faults - real and imaginary - and it takes a great effort to see good points in others. Lord Krishna has described the tendency not to find faults as a divine quality (6.2). In another verse, He describes the ability to stop oneself from unnecessary speech that would include needless criticism as an austerity of the mind ( 17.16).
We find several reasons for being critical of others. We may even feel that we have a duty towards others by pointing out their faults, but to bring someone around should be the real goal. This is only possible if the other person shall consider us as his friend, and would care to listen to us.
In Bhagavad-Geeta, Lord Krishna repeatedly speaks to Arjun in both encouraging and appreciative manner. “You are My devotee, My dear friend” (4.3). “You are very dear to Me” (18.64). “Arjun ! you have been born with divine qualities” (16.3). “I have told you the most secretive part of the scriptures because you are sinless” (15.20). “I am speaking this for your benefit” (10.1). Arjun, therefore, heard all that the Lord had to say and accepted His instructions (18.73).
Constant criticism of others is not only a manifestation of dislike one has for other, but also the lack of control over oneself. Being too critical may also indicate a mean nature, of being dissatisfied, hateful and envious of others. Such persons are in the mode of ignorance. Normally, a defeated person would be critical of one and all.
Such critical nature leads to family feuds. If we criticize our children constantly, they also learn the same trait. One who is habituated to be critical, criticizes someone in his absence. This is a complete waste of useful energy. What could be our motive in criticizing someone ? At least, the other person must know of it. We also criticize behind someone’s back because we are afraid of the backlash of such criticism. Is this a friendly attitude ?
Do we have a right to criticize others ? If someone has hurt us, it is legitimate to criticize him. Further, the criticism should force a change for the better as Lord Krishna achieved with Arjun. When Arjun initially refused to fight, which was his duty, the Lord criticized him (2.2-3). The criticism must be accepted by the other party for it to have any purpose, otherwise it is just a wasted activity.
How should one reverse this tendency to be unnecessarily critical ? Let us remember that we all have faults. In fact, we have been reconciled to live with them since the effort required to correct them is lacking in us. The same is true of others as well. If they have accepted to live with their shortcomings, what is the benefit of pointing them out. When someone points out an obvious fault, it hurts since we are being reminded of our weaknesses.
One should be intelligent enough to judge whether the criticism is going to be productive or counter-productive. When we are constantly being critical of someone, it is apparent to him that there is a dislike behind such criticism and one would be justified in ignoring it. Good behaviour calls for compassion for others, and being critical is not the best way to show one’s compassion.
There are several advantages in being appreciative, rather than critical. It is said that the wealth of appreciation is unlimited, and can bring countless rewards ; the most important being the trust of others. Lord Krishna tells Arjun that He is giving him the benefit of all the wisdom since Arjun is not envious of Him (9.1). Being appreciative gives a strong indication that one is not envious of the other. One should, therefore, make friends by being appreciative of others. Since all of us have certain good qualities, it is not difficult to find them in others. Then the criticism shall be accepted positively. Is it not what we intend to achieve ? Criticism from an enemy appears like an effort to humble, whereas the same from a friend is seen as a timely warning.