How much Criticism is too much?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The word criticism is associated with judgment, evaluation and fault-finding; and who likes being judged?  Being harshly evaluated puts a person on the defensive; impedes his vision; curtails his growth. His intellect, sentiments, and spirit are punctured, at times beyond easy repair. So, should we do away completely with criticism or change its definition? Or perhaps coin another word that is not so negative? Shernaz takes a hard look at the subject, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.

“Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Detractors lurk at every bend of our personal and professional lives. All of us have at some point faced criticism, verbal attacks, and put-downs that make one feel worthless and dejected. Political figures, titans of , ordinary men and even prophets have been hurled insults at and demeaned.

Ideological disparities, a difference of opinion, feelings of inadequacy or supremacy, make people nasty and they take cruel delight in discrediting others. We too may be guilty of such behaviour at times. Many have the sad tendency to malign others in order to gloss over their own imperfections. Social and news media have made it even easier to indulge in this malicious practice evident on twitter and other shared sites – lampooning through jokes and cartoons, humiliating video clips and direct vicious assaults. We live in a culture where berating the and others is rampant on an endemic scale.

The word criticism is associated with judgement, evaluation and fault-finding; and who likes being judged?  Being harshly evaluated puts a person on the defensive; impedes his vision; curtails his growth. His intellect, sentiments, and spirit are punctured, at times beyond easy repair. So, should we do away completely with criticism or change its definition? Or perhaps coin another word that is not so negative?

Constructive Criticism

This phrase is tossed around a lot, particularly in literary circles. I employed it recently when a poem of mine was re-constructed by another person. Looking up the meaning though, I realise that it is gaining recognition as an oxymoron. To construct is to build, to raise something. Criticism, on the other hand, is synonymous with tearing down. In all interactions, withering brickbats can shred another’s self-worth and reduce him to a caricature; psychologists believe that it can be deemed a threat to and the impact ushers deep depression.

By its very definition criticism cannot be constructive. Here is one meaning of the word — the expression of disapproval of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistakes – negative connotations that cannot be erased. It can be constructive only when the feedback is positive and makes the recipient feel valued elevating his self-confidence; when it forges self-esteem it has the potential for wider, better behavioural choices and does not spawn underachievers.

For criticism to be effective it should be encouraging, precise and objective. It should not target the person. Frank A. Clark’s sure-fire advice “Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots — should be the credo of all from film and literary critics to corporate bigwigs, parents, teachers, friends, and siblings.

On the individual front, we must stay alerted so as not to get enmeshed in the societal mores of telling off people and belittling them. When we know that such attitude gives us immense pain, we must resolve never to inflict it on another. Every person deserves to be treated with civility and kindness. It is so much better to affirm what is laudable in others and to compliment them than to go nitpicking and fault-finding, making people the butt of our ridicule. Life is too short for that. As Ratan Tata puts it, we are like prepaid cards with limited validity.

We cannot stop callous people from being themselves. Nor can we continue to be the fodder for their malevolence, while they keep dishing it out for our daily fare. The only alternative would be to live cloistered lives. So what do we do to minimise the bitter brunt of such behaviour? Here are some of the correctives we can use to preserve our sanity and anchor our spirit when catapulted into abusive situations.

1)      We must not retaliate. When we splash muck on others we do not remain unsoiled. Reaction in the same vein makes us obnoxious. What would be the difference between us and the other person? If we can thwart another’s meanness with poise and use of appropriate language, there is nothing better. If they are the types who see reason, we could win them over.

2)      Have the right perspective. Who is meting it out to you? Is it justified? If it is someone who loves you dearly then she has your good at heart. Knowing that softens the blow. Learn not to take it personally. If it is someone vindictive, out only to deflate you, the choice is yours. Be objective and weigh up whether you should respond to or completely ignore the person, or for that matter end the relationship.

3)      Your self-respect is not grist for them to grind. Put your foot down and let it be known how far the other can go without destroying your confidence. It may be difficult under the immediate scenario, with others around, but one can try to deflect the missiles with a calm and firm attitude. As Eleanor Roosevelt’s enduring words inform: No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

4)      Bosses are known for their cutting jibes and tactics that destroy employees’ self-image. There are those like the one who told his employees “If I’m unhappy with you, you will know it. If you don’t hear anything from me, then everything is fine.” Be spot on a hundred times and no one notices it but go off the beam once and there’s hell to pay. If one has such a boss, God help the poor guy! But remember even bosses are not entitled to disparage their employees, and cloying submissiveness is certainly not the answer.

5)      Someone has said that criticism is the whetstone that keeps you sharp. Insensitive words are not acceptable even from loved ones but they may be necessary. Rather than fume and fret, we should try and gain special insight from such incidents. Is there a lesson in this for me that will help me improve my work? My attitude or thinking? Am I responsible for triggering this? It is meant to lift you up not to send you off on a guilt trip. Look dispassionately for the answers. Kind censure is better than false praise.

The most dangerous form of criticism is self-criticism. It is where we demarcate the boundaries of our being in a futile attempt to live up to standards defined by our browbeating, fanatical society.  To those who go to the extreme of self-flagellation, Eleanor Roosevelt’s words come as a timely warning – when you adopt the standards or the values of someone else or a , or a pressure group, you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.

If you take everything personally and to heart, it will tear you apart. Take criticism, learn, adjust, and move on.  ~ Johnny Iuzzini

So let us learn to take criticism in the right spirit, rise above petty insults and attacks, extract the beneficial from our painful experience and with a note of gratitude try and respond calmly. All said and done what others think of and gossip about us with mala-fide intentions is the upshot of their poor mentality. Let it not influence us negatively.

©Shernaz Wadia

Photos from the internet.

#Criticism #TooMuchCriticism #Negativity #Gratitutde #Judgement #DifferentTruths

Shernaz Wadia

Shernaz Wadia

To Shernaz Wadia, reading and writing poems has been one of the means to embark on an inward journey. She hopes her words will bring peace, hope and light into dark corners. Her poems have been published in many e-journals and anthologies. She has published her own book of poems "Whispers of the Soul" and another titled "Tapestry Poetry - A Fusion of Two Minds" with her poetry partner Avril Meallem.
Shernaz Wadia
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