The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

← Return to Podcast List

00:00 / 00:00


Dealing with people who love to complain - a short interview with Dr. Andy Bernstein.













































(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)



Dealing with people who love to complain

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Dr. Kenner: What do you do when somebody is just picking on you? You prepare a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner and everything is perfect - the turkey is succulent, you made fresh cranberry sauce with walnuts in it, everything is mouthwatering - and your husband comes in and says, "Oh, you burnt the bread again, didn't you?" And you only slightly burned the rolls. What do you do when people are always picking on you? Nothing is every good enough. You know the type of person, you probably have at least a handful of them, maybe a dozen or a baker's dozen of them in your life. With me to discuss this type of bad judgment is Dr. Andy Bernstein, my resident philosopher. Andy, I know you have your PhD in philosophy and you teach at the universities, you've given addresses at Harvard and Stanford and RPI, all over the country, and you're the author of many articles, cliff notes and a novel, The Heart of a Pagan. Welcome aboard.


Dr. Bernstein: Good to be back Ellen.


Dr. Bernstein: It's great to have you here. I know that I've been around people where I'm trying to do something and I know I'm doing it 99 percent well and they will find that one percent flaw in it and say, "Yeah, but you forgot this or why didn't you do it this way?" And it's not like I'm paying them to be a consultant. It's just that they never focus on the good. How do you deal with that type of a situation?


Dr. Bernstein: I think there are several things that you would have to do, and the first thing is remember that that kind of person, in the everyday terminology, is called somebody who is judgmental. There's a reason for that. We talk about using your own judgment to make evaluations. I would say, first of all, to such a person, if by my standards, if I think - as you put it - 99 percent or more of the work is good, and they're picking on some trivial element, first of all, make sure that you repudiate their judgment.


Dr. Kenner: What would you say at the Thanksgiving meal? Everything is beautiful. Perfect. I've spent so much time doing it and someone, you're there, and someone walks in and say, "Is that burned bread? Did you burn the bread?"


Dr. Bernstein: Internally, the firs thing you need to be able to do is be willing and able to go by your own judgment. I've seen it in cases where I've given lectures where I thought it was very good and other people criticized it or vice versa. I thought it was flawed and other people loved it. You had to be one to go by your own judgment, as a prerequisite. So if somebody criticizes you and you think it's unjustly, you have to make sure you reject, internally reject, their criticism because you know that what you've done is good. You have to take pride in it and you simple repudiate that kind of judgment. Don't accept it. The second thing, if you do that, you can respond to the person in a way that is neither meek nor hostile. It's not affecting you. You're not hurt or stung by it. Then respond to them in a very reasonable way. You could say, "Well, look at all of these things here that are so good. The turkey is plump and delicious. The potatoes, they're so creamy. What do you mean?" If you don't accept the unjust judgment of the critic, then you won't get all defensive. You won't get hostile and start crying tears of humility either. You'll be able to respond in a reasonable and courteous way to the person.


Dr. Kenner: So let's say it's the mother in law that comes in. "Oh my God, I can't believe your mother is doing this again. She picks on me, every time she walks in this house. There's dust over here, why don't you put your dishes over here honey, and you don't need this old milk in the refrigerator. The woman, my house is so nice and she never notices anything good. I just can't stand her. I am so upset." You're saying that instead of having that type of a response, you can have a much more self-respecting response saying, "This is the mother in law again. We're in for the show. Let's see what she can pick on this time?" And you let it roll off you. You don't engage her in battle. You don't fight her. She runs her course but while she's doing that, you can say, "Well, didn't I cook a nice meal?"


Dr. Bernstein: Exactly. I think an important book here for everybody to read is Ayn Rand's novel The Fountainhead. It really focuses on the importance of going by your own judgment. Again, we're speaking in the context of where you honestly, your most conscientious standards, you believe that you're doing good work. It's not just a whim, but by your most honest standards you've done good work, and then your mother-in-law comes in and by your standards, irrationally criticizes you. People who lack self-confidence, who are unwilling to go by their own judgment, are hurt by that kind of irrational criticism. They take it to heart. They take it personally or they personalize it. It stings them. Then they're in pain, and either they break down in tears and kind of base themselves before the bullying critic or else they get defensive and they're willing to fight. Just like you said, both of those alternatives won't get you anywhere. The best way is you know internally that you are doing good work and you can let your mother-in-law or any other bullying critic just go on without it affecting you. When they run out of gas, when the windbag finally gets tired of yelling at you, you could then say, "How do you like the soup?" 


Dr. Kenner: That's wonderful.


Dr. Bernstein: You can focus on the positive.


Dr. Kenner: Sometimes in therapy I'll tell people who come in, and they say they have this type of a person in their life, I'll say, "If a 2-year-old or 4-year-old came over to you and said, '�You're stupid. You're dumb. You're an idiot. You don't do anything right,' how would you respond?" They said, "I'd laugh." It's not that you laugh definitely at the person engaged in battle, it's just that you're laughing because it's not important. You don't take their estimate of what they're doing as valid. You're going, as you say, by your own standards. So that's wonderful.


Now I'm going to be the critical parent, the critical mother-in-law for a moment. 


Dr. Bernstein: I'm sure you can do that well!


Dr. Kenner: [laughter] Try to see. Let's see, take a look at her and see what's behind her. "I'm only doing this for my daughter-in-law's good. I'm much older than her and I've been here and I've done this. I know how to run a household. Don't tell me I don't know how to run a household. I'm telling her that you don't put the dishes here. That you have to look at your milk everyday to make sure it's not expired. She doesn't know these things. I'm just trying to educate her. I'm trying to help her."


Dr. Bernstein: Well, you know, if the mother-in-law is [inaudible 00:07:38] in her statement that she's doing this benevolently out of good will toward her daughter-in-law, trying to educate her how to be a good homemaker, then she needs to check her. The way to help somebody is not by a kind of negative and critical berating. All that does is hurt somebody and put them under defense and cause antagonism in the relationship. What she needs to do is have a whole new strategy of how to help her daughter-in-law. I think the way you do it is by putting it in a positive way. She might say to her, "You know, honey -" I think the first thing you've got to do if you want to help somebody get better, I think you have to find the positives in what they're already doing. Show them that you recognize their virtues first, so that you don't put them on the defensive. The mother-in-law in that case could say to her daughter-in-law, "Sweetheart, I really appreciate the way you work so hard and I see you really work at keeping the house. I really admire you for that. You really love my son and you're good to him. I really appreciate that. But you know, I think there's a way you might be able to do this better if you listen to me. I don't want to tell you how to live your life, but I'm 30 years older than you and I have some experience. Are you interested in what I have to say?" 


Dr. Kenner: Because you're inviting. You're asking, "Are you interested in what I have to say?" And the daughter can say no. If she says yes, you have your invitation. You can give the advice but you can't force it on her and you can't assume that you're right and there's only one way. She may have a legitimate way. I want to thank you very much for joining us today. This is Dr. Andy Bernstein and I'm Dr. Ellen Kenner on The Rational Basis of Happiness. We've been talking about the importance of dealing with every judgmental, irrationally judgmental, not healthy judgment, people. How do you deal with these irrational people in your life? If you don't take them seriously and if you want to give good advice, you catch them doing something right. You also want to value yourself. You want to learn how to think independently for yourself.