We Need to Check Ourselves on Our Defensiveness

We all have been taught the difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism. We’ve all been taught tolerance and open-mindedness towards differences. We’ve also been taught how to give, accept, and deny opinions in civilized and more mature ways. But for some reason, no one really talks about how to deal with uncomfortable opinions that might be jabbing the ego that makes us spend most of the conversation defending ourselves instead of talking out the issue being raised.

When I was in high school, I believed that I was one of the most “socially aware” people in my school. For some reason, I felt like I’ve experienced all the bad things a teenager would’ve experienced, that whenever I see my peers complaining, I’d just feel superior in terms of suffering and dismiss their experiences, thinking that I’ve had worse. Rightfully so, one of the few friends I had confronted me about it.

Those conversations stirred up something in me that has never affected me before. It felt as if they were attacking me and my character, when in fact, they weren’t. My head tensed, and I didn’t realize how my voice rose significantly while I continuously cut their words to defend myself. My rational self knew they weren’t doing anything wrong. They expressed their opinion in a respectful way. Yet, for some reason, I couldn’t cool my head down and listen.

I finally knew how my friends felt that day when I had to do the same thing with my parents. I was watching a YouTube video of a dark-skinned girl doing a makeup tutorial. Once my mom and her sister saw what I was watching, they perceived making derogatory comments on her skin and why I wouldn’t just watch a white girl instead. I told them that what they said is colorist and even racist. Their reactions were so loud that it made people outside the room think that I just did something bad. They told me that there’s nothing in what they had said was racist, and they were just stating the truth, and there’s no need to demonize them.

That moment became a mirror of myself that I had to face. The similarity between me, my mom and my aunt is that we’re scared of the reality that we might be “bad people,” yet won’t correct ourselves for doing things that might classify us as such. We’re scared of being named with negative labels that confirms our bad traits more than being scared of actually becoming those labels.

This defensiveness that I, my mom and her sister, and even most people experience whenever they’re confronted isn’t anything new. There is actually psychological evidence that being wrong hurts someone’s self-esteem as much as if they were experiencing physical pain. This might explain why people get so defensive whenever their ideas and behavior are challenged. Their self-esteem gets hurt when they’re confronted. If anything, it’s normal not to want to be perceived as a bad person. Most of us are even still scared to know if we’re wrong or made an error about something. Some won’t even admit their errors and faults even when it’s right in front of their eyes.

This way of thinking stumps us, not only in solving existing issues in our environment but also within ourselves and in our personal relationships. When we refuse to listen and digest what someone is trying to point out because of our fragile egos, it is hard for us to hold each other accountable whenever we make errors.

In order to improve ourselves, we need to be able to accept criticism. A part of criticism itself is to be faced with, and to accept the fact that we might have done something wrong, or that there’s a fault in what we’re doing that potentially hurts other people. After all, one sign of maturity is the ability to admit and accept the fact that there might be ideas challenging our own.

One of the most important steps to start decreasing our defensiveness is to listen. It is harder to listen than to speak up. But it is important for us to always try our best to listen to what the other side is trying to say. If we speak too soon, we might never know why we are confronted in the first place. How would we ever know what was our fault or what was their justification?

Another thing to always keep in mind is that it is not always about you. We live side by side with other human beings in this world. As social beings, we inherently need each other. This is why it is important for each of us to try our best to make the place that we’re living in become as convenient as it can be for us to reside in together.[1]  All we need to do is be kind and considerate to each other. This includes being considerate of other people’s needs and concerns. When someone says that something is hurting them, then it is not anyone’s place to invalidate it.

The last thing that we need to remember is that there are tons of opinions, ideas, and facts in the world that each of us would never be able to explore in our lifetime. There will be people who think differently than we do. There will be ideas challenging our own. Sometimes, it is better to keep an open mind and not take everything as a personal attack. Disagreeing with someone is normal, and it doesn’t automatically make them an enemy.

References

Why being wrong really hurts. (2016, February 28). Retrieved April 24, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/feb/28/why-being-wrong-really-hurts

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