Critics can sometimes be ruthless in passing unfavorable judgment on the qualities, character or work of a person. Many times they are insensitive to the demoralizing effects of their words on the person criticized. When Aristotle first used the word ‘criticism’ he meant it to be a standard of judgment and not a fault finding exercise.
Criticism can be constructive or destructive. The aim of constructive criticism is to see a change for the better in the person criticized. The reasons will be clearly stated as well as suggestions offered to rectify the problem. Many times, a friend or a relative is requested to honestly criticize a person’s appearance or behaviour. In such cases, one must be ready to accept the view of the other person, in the right spirit. Absence of criticism may not always be a sign of friendship. It could be just a lack of concern for the other person.
When someone criticizes another person but cannot pinpoint what is actually wrong, this can be considered destructive. Here the intention is not to build up but to pull down. Criticism can be justified when one has done something wrong or behaved badly. But it is unjustified when someone merely picks on another person for no rhyme or reason, or out of personal pique.
How to Criticize:
As Frank A Clarke says, “Criticism like rain should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.”
• The aim should be to point out a fault without destroying a person’s self esteem. The end result must be to bring about a change that improves the quality of life.
• The person should be sufficiently knowledgeable about the subject which has come under criticism. For example, a cook may not be able to criticize the work of a beautician. In his essay on Criticism, Alexander Pope says, “A little learning is a dangerous thing.”
• There should be genuine concern for the other person. Mary Kay Ash a cosmetologist counsels “Sandwich each bit of criticism between two layers of praise.” A generous critic will bring out the best in the person he criticizes.
Reasons for Destructive and Unjustifiable Criticism:
1. Human nature is such that some people derive pleasure from criticizing others. It may be due to jealousy of someone in a better position vis-à-vis beauty, education, wealth, power or influence.
2. Ignorance: The critic may not have a clue about the problem or may have his own blinkered view of it. Many things may not be acceptable to him because of his lack of knowledge. “Fools rush where angels fear to tread.” (Alexander Pope)
3. Criticizing somebody in the presence of others may be to gain popularity.
4. Political rivals excel in criticizing each other.
5. Certain schemes or practices are criticized because whatever is new or unfamiliar is feared.
6. Herd Instinct: A person who dares to stand up for his convictions against the rest of the crowd is often criticized and ridiculed.
7. People in leadership positions are sometimes targets of criticism.
8. In a world where values are so skewed, a person who stands up for his principles or his faith it subjected to criticism.
How to benefit from Criticism:
“Blessed is the man who takes down bricks thrown at him and builds a strong foundation,” says Tom Pryor.
• Have a positive self image. Never let criticism rile you or put you on the defensive. Learn from it.
• Use discernment in how you handle criticism. Accept the challenge. Look for the reason why you are criticized. Is it destructive or constructive? Have a positive attitude to someone who offers constructive criticism He may help you overcome your faults.
• Do not rush to change just because someone has criticized you. Consider his point of view and see if it is beneficial to you. Someone said, “If one person calls you a donkey, ignore it. But if several people do, it is time to introspect and take corrective action.”
• Don’t harbour resentment against those who genuinely point out your defects. Make an honest appraisal of yourself. Hans Selye said that “As much as we thirst for approval, we dread condemnation.”
• Don’t be hamstrung by destructive criticism. Henry Ward Beecher while making a speech, received a note with the word ‘fool’ written on it. He read it and said to the people in the audience, “Most people write letters and forget to sign their name. But this one has signed his name and forgotten to write the letter.”
• Criticism promotes personal growth. It should be used as a tool for improvement. It forces you to take an honest look at yourself and make changes where necessary. It teaches humility. One cannot always be perfect, and it is alright to have flaws. Criticism has emotional benefits too. After the initial denial, it helps you see the problem more clearly and develop your problem solving skills.
As Norman Vincent Peale said, “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”
We must use criticism for our benefit and be thankful that someone cares enough to point out our flaws and make us aware of them.