The Red Flag of Criticism

I personally find it to be one of the most unnerving words in the dictionary. You could slot toxic as a most likely synonym to this one. I am speaking of criticism. Doesn’t seem like much on paper, and glides pretty easily on the tongue too. But it’s the way it settles in the heart and streams of our subconscious, the way it pockmarks our self-esteem; that’s what makes it an unlikely villain.

It has become something of a habit or better stated, an acquired tendency to immediately point out what is wrong, or rather what we find wrong in others. Criticism, I had learnt as a kid was a useful tool to perfect oneself and others around you. It took years and years of being too hard on myself and the ones close to my heart that I learnt that maybe it was time I needed to unlearn this annoying trait.

To be fair, most people don’t actually criticize to belittle another individual, it’s their whole perspective of offering an honest opinion. Or sometimes we tend to feel correctional advice must be candid and free of polite deceit. Whatever our reasons may be and no matter how innocent our intentions plead, the damage criticism does is sometimes irreparable and pretty dismal.

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Criticism Kills Self-Esteem

An incident from my childhood springs to memory as I think about criticism. For talking and disturbing the class my English teacher pulled me out in front of the class, pinched my arm and said aloud, “Now that’s what I call elephant hide!”. I can still remember the horrid feeling of anguish that I felt at that moment. My writing mostly came back from her desk highlighted throughout in red ink and a miserable looking “poor” for a comment. I always wanted to know what was wrong with my writing but the teacher felt “poor” justified it all. That criticism never really did me any good.

When I became a teacher, I thought I would definitely handle things differently. I conscientiously checked my first set of student essays and underlined the students’ writing mishaps and offered explanations and helpful suggestions in the same potent red. I thought I had done pretty well. When the graded papers were handed back, I watched with disdain how those eager faces fell in disappointment. I hadn’t fared too well in comparison to my own teacher.

It took me a great deal of reflection and consistent effort to change the way I offered the help that my students actually needed. I became a better educator and facilitator when I held back the immediate red flash of criticism and gradually introduced more opportunities to tackle common problems in their writing.

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Criticism is Detrimental to Learning

I realized to what degree criticism can be demotivating and obstructive to any form of learning; be it academic or otherwise. Criticism that I received in my initial years as a rookie teacher; saw being meted out by superiors to colleagues, and offered so offhandedly to students made me realize how we were all going wrong. To rectify mistakes and work towards improvement is not just required but also conducive to a better world. However, the process of improvement is not something that can be brought  about without due consideration to time, place and certain sensibilities.

There is a huge difference between offering helpful advice and fault finding. And I sincerely hope we all understand this difference and  cultivate a more mindful approach when we try to offer advice. What we do not like to receive is certainly not worth handing out. It’s always a better option to withhold our opinions until we can make them more constructive and of any substantial use to the receiver.

Do share your thoughts I really value them, they might add value to my insights.

 

 

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32 thoughts on “The Red Flag of Criticism

  1. JM Castro

    I agree with this wholeheartedly. My childhood was pretty rough, constant bullying and negative criticism. Took a lot of will power to change my perception on life.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t handle criticism very well, never have. But I have recently taken on the Buddhist faith and wholeheartedly approve of the mantra ” If you propose to speak always ask yourself; is it true, is it necessary, is it kind. If others don’t show me that same respect then I choose to ignore it.

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  3. Farheen

    I’ ve ample experiences of criticisms but eventually I’ve learned how not to absorb & simply walk away like a elephant. The word in urdu is ‘Dheet’.
    When one is honest & conscious of right & wrong you’re automatically attracting wisdom towards you. So one individual will always know constructive criticism & the otherwise.
    Some criticisms are really important. They really question you back. I ‘ve had people who criticised but later it stuck,they were burning so hard inside.
    However never react. If it’s productive take it work on it. …
    Keep writing
    Lots of love…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mehreen

    Criticism can break your spirit!! A great piece Shaheen, it will serve as a reminder to choose our words carefully and check our intention when trying to correct others.
    Looking forward to more thought provoking articles !

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ibrahim

    Thanks to current age media and quick communication facilities, we come across criticism especially among political opponents. Well constructive criticism leads to rectify our common errors. Whereas rest of criticism is a result of many factors.
    Quite often I feel those who declare open enemity who criticise are better than hypocrites. During Prophet Mohammed SAS time there were hypocrites and enemies who were criticising Prophet. The punishment for hypocrites is more severe than those enemies.
    So critics are better than hypocrites.
    May be I am wrong, but that’s how I feel

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Anwar khan

    The word criticism is a double edged sword. Wise elderly people can take it in a positve way and over come the defect that they have . But specifically in the case of children, it always has a negative effect and stops the growth of thinking. Very good subject and good message to Teachers, parents and elderly people while handling children..

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  7. Farhat

    I hv seen people taking criticism in positive way…
    This insident happend wit my frnd.
    He was one of the talented guy in our class and also most mischievious..
    One day there was competition in our class …
    My frnds grp lost the competition with good margin…
    Our faculty insulted him and most of the students made fun of him….
    He challenged our teacher to take same competiton next day….
    Next day when there was competition his group won…And i remember 70% answer was given by him…..
    Frm this incident i learn that we can also take criticism in postive way…

    And i hv also seen people getting nervous when they are criticise…
    It depends on individual and situation…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. There’s nothing wrong with constructive criticism except in the tone of its delivery. I think people handle it differently based on where they are emotionally on a particular day. I used to use criticism as fuel to be better until I realized I didn’t need to prove myself to anyone but me, but that only came after my 10th screenplay rejection letter.

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  9. I think there are two sides to this – certainly, there is a place for constructive criticism and the ability to use it toward improvement. But there’s a difference too, between saying, “You did this WRONG,” and something more similar to, “Why don’t we try it THIS way?” Especially with children, I find that you can use the same “criticism” with a gentler approach and still receive great results without having hurt someone’s feelings.

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  10. I do completely agree with this…in childhood I was criticized for my dark skin tone. Can you believe it? ? I dint had any close friends in my school days only because of my color…and after 4years when we had a get together, everyone was shocked with the changes (natural) i had . I don’t know how or why but it was a like a makeover for me from god lol

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  11. Amber

    I think it’s okay if people criticize, but to a point. I believe in tact. I want honesty, but in a polite way. If you come out and say, “You suck!” well, that’s just being rude in my eyes.

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  12. Criticism, when done with an intention to hurt, is a bad thought, but sometimes those words have hidden feedbacks to improve our skills. it depends on our mind and heart to take it as a feeling and sulk or a feedback and improvise. Love this post sis. Keep rocking !!!

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  13. Yeah, unfortunately one of my jobs at work is to be able to do constructive criticism and as I debrief individuals after evaluating them I always put it out there that it is constructive to ensure what I found does not become a detriment to them later on. Catch-all now vice letting things get worse. Some people are verbally combative unfortunately and I ensure others are in there with me when I debrief. It is one of the downsides to my job but, I am notably a SME in this area so, can honestly say I know what I am talking about when debriefing.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Mahevash

    I think criticism can be classified into constructive and destructive criticism.
    It’s how a person puts it across and how it is perceived .
    Life can get extremely tough and sometimes the thick skins that we have developed have helped us to cross the thorny path.
    At times criticism makes us eat humble pie and at times destroys our self esteem.
    But Allah swt has created us as superior beings, I dare say each one of us has the capability of rising above and reaching heights that we wouldn’t be able to imagine no matter what.
    Thank you for the lovely article which got me to ponder and reminiscence .
    Let me wind up by saying that we have been on both sides, receiving end as well as “guilty” of imparting criticism but all in all the human spirit survives!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally agree, the thick skins we develop help us to cross the thorny path….and Allah has designed us to be survivors….. Sadly, many of us do not realize our full potential and get disheartened easily…..

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  15. Mehtab

    Well a thought provoking & wonderful article which made me ponder whether Criticism which is really toxic & demeaning is acceptable in a constructive way. If the criticism meted out is done such a way which hardly hurts the feeling of the other & the reciever is coerced to come out & shine with a beauty he otherwise wouldn’t have tried earlier on.
    Constructive criticism I believe is necessary sometimes to help someone to show their unique talent & intelligence which otherwise they wouldn’t have bothered to use. Well, My dear Sis Shaheen you are the unique example of this Constructive Criticism which forced
    you to rise above the others & shine with your wonderful intelligence.
    But destructive criticism is harmful to the person it is meted out as it destroys his self-confidence & makes him insecure. So such kind of criticism should be avoided at any cost.
    An amazing article Shaheen wonderfully written…..
    Eagerly waiting for more of such thought provoking articles..

    Liked by 1 person

  16. toastycritic

    I remember being a student and welcoming more criticism because I honestly wanted to know how to improve my work. But I also remember being a teacher and having students act like I had cut open my wrists and bled on their paper in some ritual sacrifice. It sa balance you have to take and also realize that people learn most through failure and not as much from success. I cheer you on to find ways to contribute to your students growth, however that comes.

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  17. I’m so glad to hear that you’ve taken a negative experience and used it to help others with your teaching skills. I remember my mother telling me, when I asked her for help once, that I was big enough and ugly enough to do it myself. I never ask for help now.

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    1. I am sure your experiences good and bad have shaped you into this wonderful person you are today. Sometimes those closest to our hearts say the most hurtful things and half the time they don’t even mean it.

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  18. Lisa Rios

    My mom had a very abusive childhood – and harsh criticism (among physical abuse) played a huge part in her almost ending her life at 13. She practices gentle criticism, and always lets me know nicely how to do things and when I’m doing something wrong.

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  19. It’s a fine line between destructive and constructive criticism – even if you do mean well. And that line depends much on how the recipient of the criticism is wired. If he/she is super sensible, almost any criticism might be encouraging. But you don’t want to wrap someone in wool either, the outside world can be a bitch too..

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Nigal

    Nice article. We need to develop a thick skin to take on any kind of harsh criticism on the chin and at the same time develop the ability to see the good and acknowledge that as well. Criticism is extremely important to better ourselves on a personal and professional level. For that, we need to take any kind of criticism (the good, bad and the ugly :)) with a pinch of salt.

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  21. I’m that nutjob who appreciates criticism (especially constructive criticism, that’s close to impossible to get), mostly because it means that I’m doing something right. People don’t usually get provoke and criticize those who are quiet obedient and like to keep their head low. Even as a kid I didn’t mind criticism, even tho it was more bullying and belittling than actual criticizing. But I always faced it with the “watch me, I’ll do what you believe I can’t” attitude.

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  22. Nicole - Little Miss Sparkle

    I’m not a big fan of criticism but as long as it leads to a better result it is helpful. Just to belittle someone would be very mean!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Jennifer Dobbins

    A rose, by any other name, would still smell as…. negative or positive, FEEDBACK (rather than calling it criticism) is a necessity! Shame on those in power positions (educators, parents, day-care providers,etc) who can’t see fit to find positive ways to give negative feedback! I’m sorry for the hurt you had to endure in order to learn this lesson, but I’m glad for your perspective NOW, and I only pray that more in leadership roles find this same truth!!! Everyone, not just children, needs continuous feedback, like it or not! Checks and balances!! No one is perfect, and having others’ opinions grants us more latitude for self-improvement, if delved out properly!!! TACT is the word that comes to mind…. more TACT is needed in dishing out criticism/feedback/opinions… more tact and less red ink without explanation!!! Love this post, my dear!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. nazima

    This article reminded me of the saying of the prophet (pbuh) which is translated as A Muslim is a mirror to another Muslim.A short hadith but yet deep in meaning.We as Muslims have an obligation to point to our fellow Muslim any of his fault or shortcomings without being harsh which could be called constructive criticism and its well intended. We all know that a mirror is honest and does not distort your image.
    Loved reading it shaheen,eagerly waiting for more…

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