Don’t take it to heart

2012-03-13 10:54



Don’t take it to heart

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: “We can take it - and hopefully we can at the same time learn not to take it to heart!”

My comments:

From context, I infer that “it” (in “We can take it”) refers to criticism, but the linguistic as well as philosophical lesson here for all of us is to “learn not to take it to heart” when other people’s criticism becomes excessive, disparaging and destructive.

“At the same time”, you see, suggests that such criticisms are constantly coming, and so “we” should learn to distinguish good criticism from bad.

In other words, if it’s good criticism, we should take it. It makes us better.

If it’s bad criticism, however, we should learn not to bother. Do not get angry and do not be upset. Just don’t take it to heart.

And, of course, it’s up to us to even be able to tell the difference.

So, what is constructive criticism? How do you know when it gets destructive?

Say someone points out a few spelling mistakes you’ve just made in writing. And they say it in a caring way. “Spelling mistakes,” they further tell you, “are not to be taken lightly. If you don’t eliminate spelling mistakes, readers may draw the conclusion that you’re a sloppy person. And they may want to think the same about your copy. Does that make sense?”

It does, of course. That is good criticism. We should learn from it lest we make the same mistakes again.

If, on the other hand, someone takes every opportunity to disparage your work and they speak about your mistakes in a way that implies that you’re inferior than they are, that’s destructive. For instance, someone must have often told Jeremy Lin to quit basketball, saying along the lines of: “You’re Asian. You’re short. You’re slow slow. You’ll never be any good.”

And somewhere along the way, Lin must have learned to grow some thick skin and not to get upset or distracted. In other words, he ignored his detractors and kept playing ball. That’s why Lin, a Harvard graduate, is having a lot of fun in New York, proving his critics all wrong.

In other words, Lin did not take disparaging remarks from others to heart – otherwise all the Linsane stuff that’s got sports fans of all colors and ilk on the edge of the seat would have long ago gone to naught.

Anyways, the phrase to learn here is not to take destructive criticism to heart, and that means not to take it seriously lest it affect your desire to improve and get better. See, the heart is the bosom where you keep something close and dear. You take a friend to bosom and that means you treasure them and value their company. Take something to heart, and you take it deep. And if it’s something bad that you take to heart with, you’re deeply hurt. It bothers you. You cannot forget it.

That’s bad and it ain’t good, as Billie Holiday would sing.

So, got to learn to block it out. Let them disparage you. Don’t bother.

Let them do it. It’s for their satisfaction anyway. Don’t you realize?

People go on about basic human rights – because there’s a great lack of it everywhere. But the question I ask is do you realize that, in face of destructive criticism, it is your basic human right not to care?

It would be a complete different kettle of fish, of course, if you cannot distinguish destructive criticisms from the good ones in the first place.

That, I must say, is another problem to tackle altogether – got to learn to do that also.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


Stuff happens?

Apple’s ‘fig leaf’?

His right hand man?

She sold out last year?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)



















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