Invisible Children CEO, Jason Russel’s break down from a barrage of online critics taught me a lesson on criticism and purity of heart.
Last week, I wrote a feature on Kony 2012, a campaign by the humanitarian organization Invisible Children. No sooner than their video and its CEO went public, a lot of uninformed critics crawled out of the woodwork to criticize the CEO Jason Russel, Invisible Children, and even the people who were moved by the video and the organization’s work.
Jason was so tormented by the criticism and attention, he went nine days without sleep and suffered a mental breakdown. Authorities found him naked in the streets of San Diego. The man put himself and Invisible Children out there to show people what’s going on in another country on the other side of the world. He invested his life, career, and privacy into a cause that he and so many volunteers believe in only to be mobbed by an online group of haters.
Even some of my own dearest friends, who I naturally believed to be better than blind criticism, joined the band wagon in criticizing Invisible Children for their unprecedented success, even questioning their actions and intents. I was shocked because I have taken part in their causes – even if they weren’t in my own interests – by showing support and even donating my time and money. I felt sad that these normally smart, loving, and compassionate people could hate on someone and something they’ve never even met or fully understand.
Seeing these good people blindly criticizing others against their own better judgement reminded me of how I am capable of the same thing and how I have done this so many times before. Seeing all of this reminded me of how ugly I can be and it confirmed to me that just as I don’t wish detrimental criticism on myself and others, I don’t want to be the perpetuator of something so hurtful. This isn’t just exclusive to speech, it goes in thought. It reminded me of how pure of heart and mind I want to be. It encouraged me to continue the self-discipline it takes to be loving.
No matter what happens to Jason and Invisible Children, these people have the choice to allow the criticism to encourage them to keep going or to stop and give up. I remember growing up and hearing some nasty criticisms about myself from people I thought loved me. Instead of letting it get me down, I used it as fuel to prove them wrong. I decided to tell myself, “I am not that and I don’t choose that and just because you say it doesn’t mean it’s true.” Needless to say, I can proudly confirm that I’ve proven them wrong.
Criticism, when used constructively and compassionately, can help others. Criticism, when used selfishly and detrimentally, can hurt others. If you’re not sure if you’re being compassionate or selfish, simply refrain from criticism. As the old adage goes, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
When was the last time you were criticized and it hurt? Can you remember how it felt? When was the last time you criticized someone? Can you remember how they felt in response?
1. So long as I am acting from duty and conviction, I am indifferent to taunts and jeers. I think they will probably do me more good than harm. – Winston Churchill, House of Commons Speech, 6 December 1946
2. It is much easier to be critical than to be correct. – Benjamin Disraeli, House of Commons Speech, 24 January, 1860
3. Bitter is the criticism, from which, with the best of wills, we can derive no benefit. – Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach. Aphorisms, p. 71
4. To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing. -Elbert Hubbard
5. Second-rate minds usually condemn everything beyond their grasp. – La Rochefoucauld. Maxims, 375, 1665.
6. When criticized, consider the source. – Saying
7. Be thou, in rebuking evil, conscious of thine own. – John Greenleaf Whittier. What the Voice Said, 15, 1847
8. What Paul says about Peter tells us more about Paul than about Peter. – Baruch Spinoza. In Erich Fromm, Psychoanalysis and Religion, 3, 1950
9. When we speak evil of others, we generally condemn ourselves. – Publius Syrus. Moral Sayings, 1058.
10. He that corrects out of Passion raises Revenge sooner than Repentance. – William Penn. Some Fruits of Solitude, 290, 1693.