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The Dangers and Rewards of Criticism, Part 2: The Chewers

There is a point when dwelling on a topic switches from healthy self-reflection to harmful obsession. The “Chewers” do exactly that. Their name refers to ruminant animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, buffalo, deer, elk, giraffes, and camels. These animals mostly eat grass and other hard-to-digest vegetation. When they fill their stomachs, they chew small balls of grass that they process in a special organ, which breaks the grass down into small balls of “cud”. That is why you will see these animals constantly chewing on something, even when they are not eating. For them, chewing the cud is a never-ending process, which is why the expression “chewing the cud” means to think or talk reflectively. For the Chewers, reflecting on things, including their flaws, never stops either.

Because this type of person spends so much time reflecting on their flaws, they can be especially defensive when receiving critiques. We can all agree that self-reflection is a good thing, but there is such thing as too much of a good thing. Spending so much time looking back can keep people from looking forward. The phrase “those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it” is useful, but this type takes it too far. Instead of studying history and applying it, they just keep studying and spend far too little time actually implementing what they learned.

All mixed in

Another problem is that despite spending so much time contemplating, Chewers are not the best at prioritising what they should contemplate about. That is, they do not necessarily focus on their real flaws that need to be addressed urgently. Instead, they place equal weight on real flaws and perceived flaws. If a Chewer could accurately define their flaws, then this habit might not be so destructive. But dwelling on issues and experiences that will have no bearing on one’s business success is not the way to improve. Moreover, it makes them feel far more flawed than they actually are, so they do not properly value their skills and abilities. This often leads to lower self-esteem and insecurities.

If this process sounds exhausting, that’s because it is. By the end of the process, the Chewer has spent so much time reflecting that they loathe it when someone on the outside chimes in. By fomenting their own insecurities, they are more prone to feel defensive and for every bit of feedback to feel like a deep, offensive attack on their personhood. If they feel attacked, they are not likely to listen, so there is little hope for improvement. Stopping this vicious cycle is no easy task. Often, it requires outside intervention. Chewers often need someone else to build them up. While this can make them highly reliant on other people, it is far preferable to the alternative: self-pity. This type could really learn a thing or two from their polar opposites, the Ducks, who let critiques and feedback flow over them like water off a duck’s back.

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The Dangers and Rewards of Criticism, Part 1: The Accepters