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Self-Knowledge • Behaviours

On Always Finding Fault with Others

The problem with trying accurately to identify the behaviour known as fault-finding – defined as an obsessive need to focus on the flaws and shortcomings of others – is that every human does appear to have a more or less endless and constantly irksome supply of flaws. However much we might wish it to be otherwise, human wrongness is the rule. This one has a slightly irritating laugh; that one goes on too long; this one is too insecure; that one is a bit grandiose; this one is overly practical, that one has their head in the clouds.

It can therefore take a very long time indeed to realise that what one might have on one’s hands – or might be oneself – is a fault finder: that is, someone who doesn’t simply happen to discover this or that shortcoming in another person, but someone who systematically and obsessively needs to find everyone awful as a defence against the risks of intimacy; someone with a categorical desire to conclude that everyone is not worth bothering with so that they can continue to ensure that they will never be hurt by anyone (again).

Painting by Lesser Ury of a bald man scrutinising a newspaper by means of a magnifying glass.
Lesser Ury, Reader with Magnifying Glass, 1895

So long as everyone is defective and blemished, there can never be any need to enter into a relationship. So long as everyone is no good, there is always a sound reason to stay alone – while seeming all the while to be desperately in search of connection, which one claims has been foiled by unfortunate examples of our species.

The sad part is why the fault finder came to be this way: because someone else, probably a parent, constantly and intolerably found fault with them. Even though children are almost universally endearing, fault-finding parents can always decide that a given child might be too quiet, or bad at maths, or not athletic enough or ugly from the left side. And the inevitable result of having been found fault with in this way is that one will grow up to assiduously hunt out the blemished sides of those around us (and, below the radar, of oneself too of course). Without a memory of a secure properly tolerant relationship to another human, fault finding won’t just be an intellectual proclivity; it will be an emotionally necessity.

What the fault-finder misses is that love doesn’t involve not finding fault; it means being generous around faults. What distinguishes the fault-finder from the kindly soul isn’t the number of flaws they see; it’s how they interpret them. And yet we should insist that the kindly soul isn’t ultimately a ‘better’ person; that would be to find too much fault with fault-finders. They just had the good fortune of having had a much, much easier childhood.

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