Wise women

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The setting was the April Universe Changers salon here at the Minnesota Women’s Press. We meet for just an hour, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., on the first Friday of the month. It’s amazing how profound the wisdom that a group of women, most of whom have never met before, can share in such a brief period of time.

The topic was huge: “How can women raise each other up … and not pull each other down?” I was eager to hear others’ thoughts on this.

One woman’s revelation made a big impact on the group. She talked about how she had attended a previous Universe Changers circle and had been very critical of Hillary Clinton. Her feelings bothered her, so this topic resonated and she had come back.

We wrote our thoughts on colorful pieces of paper. Although I had fun choosing the pen that wrote in silver and highlighting my words with gold, and others chose their scraps of paper and colors of ink with care, too, it was the words themselves that were important. I’ll share some here.

“Examine my own feelings and motives.”

Questions to consider when the urge to be critical strikes: Why does something another woman is doing or saying get under my skin? Doesn’t that really say as much or more about me than it does about her? Am I jealous? Do I see too much of myself in her? Why am I reacting the way I do?

“It’s more important to see our similarities than our differences.”

It’s sometimes hard to see similarities when another woman does something that bothers us. Recently I was at a sports practice when I heard another mom criticize one of the young athletes. I felt really turned off and judged her harshly. Yet when my daughter forgot her warm-up jacket, this woman was quick to offer one her girl had outgrown.

I got to thinking about how this woman spent five days a week at the rink, sometimes poring over her daughter’s homework while the girl skated. We share a devotion to our girls, and that made me feel more empathetic and less critical.

And my favorite: “The only criticism I have found beneficial was by invitation, constructive and delivered with love.”

What an amazing concept-only offer constructive criticism, only when it’s asked for and only with love. It’s so easy to be critical. So easy to spout off when we’re angry. Have you ever said, “I’ve got to get this off my chest?” Saying that is admitting that the criticism that follows is really for your own benefit.

Unwanted advice or criticism is often negative or disrespectful or one-sided. When was the last time something you wanted to hear started with, “I’m only saying this because I care about you?” I think it may be human nature to discount anything that is prefaced by that phrase!

I like to think of myself as being honest, but there are much less complimentary ways to put it. I know that I’m overly critical of others, something I try to justify by saying that I’m just as critical of myself. While that may be true, how I deal with myself is between me and … well, me! But how I deal with you, that affects both of us.

There are times, of course, when it would be irresponsible not to speak up. When a friend is in a dangerous situation, we owe it to her to say what needs to be said. But even when it’s not by invitation, it can be constructive and delivered with love. That’s a pretty cool concept, don’t you think? In fact, I think it’s universe changing.

Join us in changing the universe. Our next Universe Changers salon will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, May 2, at the Women’s Press office, 771 Raymond Ave., in St. Paul. We’ll talk about the women who helped us become who we are today. We usually have new faces at the table each time. I hope you’ll consider making yours one of them.