Criticism vs Advice

There’s a phrase that’s been thrown around by people in positions of power that I find concerning. “Don’t take criticism from someone you wouldn’t go to for advice.”

While this idea may be valuable in interpersonal relationships, this cannot be applied to people who sit in elected positions. Whether or not someone voted for whoever holds a seat of power doesn’t negate their ability to give constructive criticism. Although this is only the first time I’ve heard it come from a city council member’s mouth, and the first time I heard it from the mouth of an anti-racist trainer (speaking to the same city council members), I vehemently disagree with this phrase’s use in the political arena.

Aren’t elected officials suppose to listen to the voices of all people — even those who did not vote for them? By making such a claim, officials can selectively choose who they listen to and who to ignore. They’ve also signaled to everyone who shows up to make public comment that they find only certain voices valuable. The phrase also gives the feeling of “if you’re not with me, you’re against me.” Why run for a position of power where it is absolutely guaranteed that not everyone will agree with you?

There is a reason why I personally have no political aspirations: being subject to everyone’s opinions underneath a spotlight sounds like a terrible way to spend time to me. Though, I do know that eventually I will become ‘known’, the only people I will find myself accountable to are those who I am in community with – my family, my friends, my neighbors, people I help. Should I care what elected officials think of me? I’m not out to make enemies, but I’m also not going to let anyone — and I do mean anyone — avoid accountability. As a result, enemies will be made. I must again mention that accountability doesn’t have to mean punishment. I would much rather see everyone learn how to take ownership, make amends, and actively do better than to face negative consequences. I know that’s a weird concept for a lot of people.

Anyway, while criticism is like advice in that a person gets to choose which parts are valuable to take/act on and which are not, trying to put oneself above criticism isn’t going to do anyone any good, especially if that person has been democratically elected into a seat of power.

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