Seeing the best in life's challenges

Responding to Criticism: This is How It’s Done

on October 3, 2012

BULLY ALERT!!!  There are a couple of situations in the news recently that are examples of how hurtful criticism can be. We call this kind of behavior Bullying and it’s easy to just label it wrong and get angry and want to punish the bullies to stop it from happening again.  But the focus on punishment isn’t working in the quest to stop bullying.  Here’s an article about why.

Following are two situations where “fighting back” was handled in a different way.

The first situation involves Balpreet Kaur, a Sikh woman.  As the article says, the situation  “started with a sneaky and ill-advised online potshot, but it ended with an apology and a positively heartwarming lesson in tolerance and kindness.”  The story is here and I’ve copied the article from HuffPost below.

Over the weekend, a Redditor with the username “european_douchebag” posted a photo of a college student named Balpreet Kaur to Reddit. Kaur, an Ohio State student and observant Sikh, does not trim her facial hair in accordance with her religion’s beliefs.

Kaur discovered her newfound fame, when a friend showed her the picture. Despite having her privacy violated and her picture posted to the supposedly humorous r/funny subreddit for the world to discuss, the young woman’s response was dignified, graceful and generous.

“When I die, no one is going to remember what I looked like, heck, my kids will forget my voice, and slowly, all physical memory will fade away,” Kaur wrote. “However, my impact and legacy will remain: and, by not focusing on the physical beauty, I have time to cultivate those inner virtues and hopefully, focus my life on creating change and progress for this world in any way I can.”

The Internet, too, rallied in Kaur’s defense, with Redditors like “MisterMT” adding their own messages of support. “This is overall a great story – and Balpreet is about to become a global icon. Even better, she is someone who genuinely deserves her recognition. Wonderful stuff.”

Many took note of Kaur’s true inner beauty, while others hailed her as a role model.

“I had tears in my eyes, reading this post,” wrote “singhza”. “Balpreet you are an inspiration to everyone and esp the Sikh youth who think they are a misfit in the society if they conform to our religious symbols.”

What happened next, however, was in many ways more surprising: european_douchebag himself apologized.

In a response entitled “I posted the picture of a Sikh woman on here and I’d like to apologize” that popped up on Reddit yesterday, the man behind the furor issued a complete mea culpa:

I know that this post ISN’T a funny post but I felt the need to apologize to the Sikhs, Balpreet, and anyone else I offended when I posted that picture. Put simply it was stupid. Making fun of people is funny to some but incredibly degrading to the people you’re making fun of. It was an incredibly rude, judgmental, and ignorant thing to post.

/r/Funny wasn’t the proper place to post this. Maybe /r/racism or /r/douchebagsofreddit or /r/intolerance would have been more appropriate. Reddit shouldn’t be about putting people down, but a group of people sending cool, interesting, or funny things. Reddit’s been in the news alot lately about a lot of cool things we’ve done, like a freaking AMA by the president. I’m sorry for being the part of reddit that is intolerant and douchebaggy. This isn’t 4chan, or 9gag, or some other stupid website where people post things like I did. It’s fucking reddit. Where some pretty amazing stuff has happened.

I’ve read more about the Sikh faith and it was actually really interesting. It makes a whole lot of sense to work on having a legacy and not worrying about what you look like. I made that post for stupid internet points and I was ignorant.

So reddit I’m sorry for being an asshole and for giving you negative publicity.

Balpreet, I’m sorry for being a closed minded individual. You are a much better person than I am

Sikhs, I’m sorry for insulting your culture and way of life.

Balpreet’s faith in what she believes is astounding.

Sometimes humanity surprises us for the better. This is simply one of those times.

The second situation involves Jennifer Livingston, a TV news anchor in La Crosse, Wisconsin who responded to a viewer’s outrageous attack on her appearance on Tuesday morning.  The article (again on HuffPost) can be found here.

Livingston recently received an email from a male viewer criticizing her weight. Her husband and fellow news anchor Mike Thompson posted the text to the Facebook page for “WKBT News 8 This Morning.”

“I was surprised indeed to witness that your physical condition hasn’t improved for many years,” wrote the viewer, who said Livingston was not a “suitable example” for young girls. “I leave you this note hoping that you’ll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.”

Livingston addressed her bully on-air Tuesday, prefacing her message by saying that she has received words of support from “hundreds” of people and that the response has been “truly inspiring.”

“The truth is, I am overweight,” she said. “But to the person who wrote me that letter, do you think I don’t know that? That your cruel words are pointing out something that I don’t see? You don’t know me… so you know nothing about me but what you see on the outside and I am much more than a number on a scale.”

Livingston continued, “That man’s words mean nothing to me, but really angers me about this is there are children who don’t know better — who get emails as critical as the one I received or in many cases, even worse, each and every day.”

She said that bullying scared her as the mother of three daughters. “If you are at home and you are talking about the fat newslady, guess what?” she said. “Your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat.”

Livingston thanked the viewers, friends and colleagues who have stood up for her, and ended with these words:

“I leave you with this: To all of the children out there who feel lost, who are struggling with your weight, with the color of your skin, your sexual preference, your disability, even the acne on your face, listen to me right now. do not let your self-worth be defined by bullies. Learn from my experience — that the cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts of many.”

The video of Livingston’s response is here also.

We would all agree that this kind of criticism, this kind of bullying is “bad.”  But we are each able to choose our reaction to it.  We can focus on the condemnation, but that just escalates the negativity and empowers the critic, placing the bully at the center of attention.  We can react as a victim, but then the bully wins, gets a satisfying reaction, and is empowered to create this kind of drama over again.  We can hide and hope the bully doesn’t notice us, but what kind of a life is that?

OR, we can be secure in who we are and refuse to be defined by the criticism of the bully.  We can understand the bully or the critic for who they are, someone who is insecure and who only feels powerful when they can manipulate others and get a reaction.

Which leads to the most important part of the lesson here.  How do we teach our kids to react to criticism?  How do we empower them?

Both of these women are secure in themselves.  Each personality shines in the face of her situation.  They reacted differently, but neither one focused on revenge.  Neither one acted like a victim.  And neither one ran and hid from their attacker.

Most of the anti-bullying strategies out there focus on punishment and how “wrong” the bully is.  This leads to an underlying lesson:  when someone criticizes you, you are victimized.  WE ARE INADVERTANTLY TEACHING OUR KIDS TO ACT LIKE VICTIMS, the OPPOSITE of what we really need to do – to EMPOWER our kids.

Izzy Kalman is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist who is working tirelessly to get this message out.  His website,, has a wealth of information about how to handle bullying and how to empower our kids.  The truth is, we all encounter criticism throughout life, and knowing how to handle it is huge.  Izzy has written many articles that are insightful and helpful in understanding the psychology of the dynamics of bullies and “victims.”  In this article, Izzy says:

Consider what kids have been taught about bullying for over a decade. They have attended assemblies presented by highly paid ‘bullying experts’ who tell them about the horrible effects of bullying. They have been presented with school bullying policies outlining all the kinds of bullying that they should not tolerate. They have been told that words can scar them forever or even kill them. They have seen No Bully Zone posters plastered in school corridors. They have watched movies and read books about the pain of being bullied. They have participated in antibullying rallies and wear antibullying bracelets. They have been told that they are not capable of dealing with bullies on their own because the bullies are too strong, so their classmates and teachers must stand up for them against their bullies. Their favorite celebrities have embarked on highly publicized antibullying campaigns and assured them “It gets better.” They have been promised that tough new laws will protect them from bullying.

Then they are confronted with reality. Despite society’s promises of protection and the comforting “It gets better” declarations, they continue to get bullied–and it’s only getting worse. The ever-present No Bully Zone posters are nothing but a lie to them. When the school authorities get involved against their bullies, their peers despise them even more, call them ‘snitches’ and want revenge.

Having been told year after year how destructive bullying is, they become even more upset when they are bullied. And when they get upset, they get picked on even more, because emotional upset is what fuels bullying. So the bullying gets worse, they become more desperate, and they are more likely to feel that the only way to end their misery is to end life itself.

We will never reduce bullying by continuing our current antibullying efforts.

We need to realize that kids who commit bullycide, as much as we sympathize with their misery and grieve for them, are not heroes and the last thing we want is for them to be role models. They are the kids who lacked the resilience and the wisdom to deal with their problem. We cannot continue to glorify them with magazine covers and laws in their name and expect bullycide to decrease.

The most reliable way to prevent kids from taking their own lives is to teach them how to deal with bullying on their own. It is not hard to stop being bullied, and our kids deserve to be taught how to do it.

And on a lighter note:  I have to add this video.  We can never underestimate the power of humor in the “fight” against hate.  Enjoy!!

2 responses to “Responding to Criticism: This is How It’s Done

  1. David says:

    I enjoyed reading this post. I’m recalling how in 2008 – while I was pastoral coordinator at a middle school – I chose to buck the national trend of holding an annual “anti-bullying week”. I simply could not understand why a school would focus so much attention on something that was NOT wanted. So I introduced “Pro-Peace Week” instead. I held a whole school assembly in which I encouraged victims to look for the POSITIVE INTENTION behind their bully’s actions and to see the situation as a GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY for them to reclaim their power. In all my life I’ve never received a bigger applause from a group of children than I did at the end of that particular assembly.

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