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.
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.
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.