Positive judgment hurts less acutely than criticism, but it is judgment all the same and we are harmed by it in far more subtle ways. To seek approval is to have no resting place, no sanctuary. ~Rachel Naomi Remen, from Kitchen Table Wisdom
The only way to escape the personal corruption of praise is to go on working. ~Einstein
Remen begins her essay on this topic by asserting that “the life in us is diminished by judgment far more frequently than disease. Our own self-judgment or the judgment of other people can stifle our life force, its spontaneity and natural expression.” Amen! But she goes on to remind us that approval can make us just as uncertain of our true worth as criticism. How have I “performed” for approval, either from others or from myself? From the time I was barely reading and was prompted to recite selections from Cautionary Verses* for company, to my career accomplishments, I have to admit there have been many such times.
As Remen also points out, one of the joys of aging is the recognition that we are whole people, with the full range of human characteristics: “fear and courage, generosity and selfishness, vulnerability and strength.” What we consider our shortcomings sometimes turn out to be strengths, and vice versa. And I love these concluding lines of her chapter: “Things that I have hidden from others for years turn out to be the anchor and enrichment of my middle age. What a blessing it is to outlive your self-judgments and harvest your failures.”
It seems to me there is little else to be said about the absolutely perfect antidote Einstein supplies. How has judgment affected your life? What have you learned from your pursuit of approval?
*Cautionary Verses, by Hilaire Belloc, is a collection of droll, satirical moralisms with titles such as “Matilda, who told lies and was burned to death” and “Jim, who ran away from his nurse and was eaten by a lion.” These are two I can still recite, along with “Henry King, who chewed bits of string and was early cut off in dreadful agonies.” One of my favorite stories about Belloc is his chosen epitaph: “When I am dead, I hope it may be said: His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.”