I awoke this morning contemplating again the subject that has been on my mind and part of conversations recently. It is the idea of criticism - when is it appropriate, helpful or received, and by whom. I personally have a problem with criticism, as it has such a negative connotation in my mind. The idea of 'constructive criticism' is an oxymoron in my way of thinking. Constructive seems to indicate building up, yet criticism is a tearing down.
In my pondering abstract concepts such as this, I always like to start with definitions. Here are some I found on the web:
- disapproval expressed by pointing out faults or shortcomings
- a serious examination and judgment of something
- The word critic comes from the Greek κριτικός (kritikós), "able to discern", which in turn derives from the word κριτής (krités), meaning a person who offers reasoned judgment or analysis, value judgment, interpretation, or observation
- The act of criticizing; a critical judgment passed or expressed; a critical observation or detailed examination and review
We cannot escape the judgment of others, that is just a fact. Whether it is verbalized or not, we are creatures of judgment, making determinations about each other constantly. I desperately try to accept those around me just as they are, struggling to see the best in others. Do I always succeed? Not hardly, but it is getting easier as I mature. Do I think I have the right to criticize others according to my judgments? I would think not, especially if they are not hurting themselves or those around them*.
Personally, I have granted, you could say, permission to a few to criticize my behavior. Those that have more than earned my trust, respect and have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have my best interest at heart. I know that they would not intentionally hurt me. In order to accept criticism, you have to make yourself vulnerable and most are unwilling to do that with just anyone. I would certainly not care for someone who has not earned that right to approach me with a criticism of my behavior or words, and honestly, I probably would take is as a personal affront and be 'on my guard' with that person in the future. Why? Because I am unsure of their motivation. Why are they criticizing me? Is it to make them feel more powerful? More important? More right? Are they trying to make me more like them? Can they only accept me if I fit into their mold?
There is one exception and that would be in a teacher-student type of relationship. As a student, you have put yourself 'under' the teaching of one more learned and experienced for the purpose of growing and learning from them. You would want them to direct you and train you - this type of criticism, or training, is not intended to wound, but to teach. Most acceptable and right, in my view.
I'm not sure I will ever be able to change my view on criticism, as I just don't see it as a useful tool in edifying others or building them up to be the best they can be. Perhaps that is my immaturity speaking, and I will ponder it further...maybe I just haven't seen criticism used in a loving way with positive results. If I have, I certainly didn't label it as criticism, I suppose. I know that I have been criticized throughout my life and it has been usually about personality traits that I cannot really change, like a loud laugh or feeling too deeply.
I guess my bottom line is that I have to admit that I am my own worst critic - no one berates me or criticizes me more harshly than myself. I have to believe that we all can say the same.
The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.
*Would I criticize them if they were hurting themselves or others? I probably would try to engage them with questions and loving concern, instead of criticism - that is, if they were open to talking about the situation. Much care and compassion is needed when people are getting hurt, I believe.