Valid Criticism Deserves a Willing Ear

I learned through this meditation that valid criticism deserves a willing ear and that feedback can be a like Warhead candy: sour on the outside, sweet on the inside.

I’ve been thinking a lot about purpose, especially when it comes to my friendships. For a long time, I’ve struggled to make friends. Not because I’m not social, but more so because I have felt that I’ve often over-contributed to my friendships, leaving me drained and sometimes hurt. The second reason may be more exclusive, but being a gay man in a big city has often brought a lot of distrust with it when it comes to making friends. For starters, gay man have a hard time not objectifying each other. We shield our compulsive lust behind sexual liberation and we often do not make our intentions known up front. I’ve also come to experience another hurdle in this respect: cliques. Groupings among gay men are pervasive and often nauseating. We are grouped by our body types — twink, bear, muscular. We are grouped by out self expression — feminine, masculine, androgynous. Even with just two examples aside, we are also relegated to groups all people fall victim to. Things like race, gender, social status — all of this compounds into a dynamic of social stratification that I have had a hard time navigating when forming friendships.

I’d like to put all of that aside and dive deeper into my current friendships a bit more. Getting back to purpose, lately I’ve done a bit of digging in my part to understand what purpose I have in my friendship. All of my thoughts have boiled down to three distinct reasons: love, growth, and mutual respect. On all of these, I believe that what I bring to a friendship is a sense of love, a willingness and commitment to help my friends grow, and a unrelenting understanding of mutual respect. Maybe it’s helping my friend with his finances, so that he can stay on track and learn from someone like who has done a good job with is money. Or maybe it’s venting with a friend on the phone for two hours about how there’s some distance between us and we should work on that. Or maybe it’s an love so foundational that even when we disagree, we come around to each other. I like to believe that what I bring to my friendships is positive, but sometimes that always doesn’t work out.

Shifting gears a bit, I also want to talk about purpose within friendships as a concept. Recently, I did a mediation on Apple Fitness+ where we thought through our purpose on friendships. One of the questions given to us in the mediation was “When a friend give me valid criticism or feedback do I listen?” After explore our thoughts, we were then asked to remember a time where we received criticism or feedback from a friend and explore the idea about why our friend share this piece of information and what purpose it served. Immediately this hit me in the gut.

I thought back to a time where a friend and I got into an argument while out at the bar. We had been drinking and a disagreement between our friend group took place. The disagreement was heavy, but we worked through it as a friend ground and seemingly moved along. That was until we ventured to the next bard where one friend’s attitude went completely sour. Having noticed this, I called out this behavior which started a fight. Fueled by alcohol, I lobbed a couple of mean remarks to my friend that I could tell left him devastated. We went about our ways until he and I could regroup again to talk it out. I knew I had hurt him, but I needed to listen. He shared with me exactly why my remarks were so piercing. He also reminded me how my words were flat out mean. They were — and I felt horrible about it. Even so, this feedback felt like an attack. I could feel myself getting hot. I wanted to listen, but I was also becoming upset. We eventually were able to settle our differences, but I still felt like I was being attacked. Why?

I thought about another friend who frequently reminds me that sometimes when I say things, even if I think they are valid, they can be hurtful and carry weight. Even if those remarks about something so small, my words carry weight. Each time I am told this though, I again feel attacked. How could I both mean well and be rude? How could something truthful in both of our minds, but so hurtful or controversial?

The mediation tied it all together for me. First answering the question about listening when I receive feedback, the answer is mostly yes, but also no. While I listen to what others have to say when they provide me with feedback, I often listen to respond. I listen to defend myself. The second exercise — asking us to explore why a friend would share this feedback in the first place — I am brought to the central purpose of friendship as I see it: unconditional love and mutual respect. Whereas I believed these friend were providing me feedback to hurt me or bring me down, they were providing me feedback because they love me. They want to see me grow and be a better person and friend, so they are lending their insights to bring me back to center. I learned through this meditation that valid criticism deserves a willing ear and that feedback can be a like Warhead candy: sour on the outside, sweet on the inside.

2 thoughts on “Valid Criticism Deserves a Willing Ear

  1. Claudia Jebens

    Hi Kyle… I hope all is well with you! Sorry I have been so completely out of touch. It’s not just you, but pretty much everyone. I’ve gone through so much in the past 6+ yrs that I just kind of tuned the world out in order to protect myself medically, physically and mentally. I just want you to know how much I enjoy reading your posts. It sounds like things are going well for you overall. Most of all, I just hope you are happy! Love, Ms. J

    Sent from my iPad


    1. Ms. J, it’s always nice to hear from you. I’m really sorry you’ve had a hard time over the past few years. I’m always willing to catch up. If you still have my number, it’s been the same since IMCH. Feel free to reach out anytime, in any forum you wish – always happy to hear from you! Love, Kyle

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.