On dealing with criticism

Opinion by Tilly Griffiths
Jan. 23, 2019, 1:00 a.m.

On the whole, I like to consider myself a largely upbeat person with a mostly sunny outlook. This is by no means to say that I’m confined to viewing life through rose-tinted spectacles but rather to make the point that, when given the choice, I tend to err on the side of positivity. It is for this reason that, when confronted with negativity and criticism, I find myself struggling to process this in a constructive way and, in turn, have had to develop strategies to improve my ability to not take criticism so deeply to heart and instead use this as a tool for self-betterment.

As a Stanford student, I can say without doubt that I am not alone in my experiences of being a high-achiever throughout my education and, as a result, becoming somewhat of a perfectionist. For me, it has never been about competition with peers, but rather my academic progress has always been a highly personal matter with each academic success heightening my desire to get better and better. This academic ability led to a period early on in my educational journey during which I lacked any experience of criticism from my teachers at all. Therefore, as the years passed and my teachers began to challenge me in class, I saw these encounters not as a kind-hearted attempt to further my progress but instead as a direct attack on my being. Looking back, I myself cringe at how a brief suggestion of how to improve my work would occupy my brain for days afterwards. I would turn over all the possible implications of this criticism and break my heart over how I had lost every last shred of dignity. Nonetheless, these feelings were entirely legitimate, and they were something that I had to learn to accept and overcome.

The more I was exposed to these forms of constructive criticism, the more I was able to accept them as a great way to further my abilities, and I now welcome the opportunity to receive feedback on work and learn new ways of improving. I have also learned that, when giving feedback to others, I must not be afraid to give constructive criticism since as long as this is presented in a mindful and sensitive way, it will ultimately benefit the individual and lead to a positive cycle of sharing ideas and learning together.

However, there are other types of criticism that I’m still learning to process. The vast world of social media is both a thrilling and terrifying place, and, for reasons still too numerous to name, it is a breeding ground for criticism and negativity that by far surpasses that of everyday real-life interaction. Whether it be a big-name celebrity or your average Instagram user, no one is entirely shielded from the streams of hate that pervade social networks and over the years I, like most, have experienced the harmful backlash from “putting yourself out there”.

After featuring in a short piece of filming for the BBC about my journey to Stanford as a student from the UK with a severe physical disability, I received a whole host of negative comments that ranged from attacking my overall appearance to suggesting that I had only been accepted in order to fill some sort of disability quota because, after all, how could they possibly want a student like me otherwise? Some would say that of course “haters gonna hate,” and I should just accept it and move on, but as much as I try, I cannot deny that I was affected by these comments and questioned whether “putting myself out there” was something I could ever do again.

Until now, I have remained somewhat sheltered from such personal criticism and believe that this is largely due to the widespread mentality of “You can’t say that, she has a disability!” This definitely has its good points as I had a very content high-school experience with little to no instances of confrontation, but it also means that I have rarely been challenged for any aspect of my life and thus have not constructed coping mechanisms for such interactions. In the age of social media, I have found that the online world obliterates any notion of this mentality, and, for the first time in my life, I have been exposed to some of the negativity that inevitably exists in real life. While this initially came as a shock, and I’m still learning ways to turn these experiences into a positive, there is a small part of me that celebrates the fact that society is finding ways to see past the disability-barrier. Hateful behavior is never acceptable, but it is my hope that we will one day be able to harness whatever mystical power reverses this mentality online and translate it to the real world so that the presence of a wheelchair, for example, has no influence over social interactions at all.

During my time at Stanford so far, I have been challenged in ways I never could have imagined. I can already see disability fading into the background and making space for me to come forwards and present myself as the young woman with ideas, hopes, passions and goals that I am. Criticism is a part of life that I’m learning to embrace in all its forms, and I look forward to many more opportunities to grow and develop through this newfound friend.


Contact Tilly Griffiths at tillykg ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Tilly Griffiths ‘22 is a senior from the United Kingdom pursuing a double-major in Political Science and Communication. As a person with disabilities herself and current ASSU Director of Disability Advocacy, she has written extensively for the Daily on issues relating to accessibility and inclusion since her freshman year, and continues to highlight the experiences of the disability community on campus as an opinion columnist

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