Sunday, 14 February 2016

Criticism: Dead or Alive?


I have often wondered when as a society criticism became frowned upon. There was a time when speaking your mind was fine and in some cases encouraged. A lot of the time the contents of what a person said contained more criticism than praise.

Our world history is full of people who stood up and criticised and it wasn't always worded constructively.

If people hadn't spoken out where as a society would we be? Would the mentally ill still be locked away out of sight in asylums rather than receiving the care and help they need? Would we still have slaves in the western world? Would it be okay to judge people, not by who they are, but what they look it?

Then, at some point, criticism morphed into being constructive criticism. Now you would think that would be acceptable but clearly, as I have just found out yet again, even constructive criticism is unwanted.

So that leads me to here...if we are not meant to criticise and not meant to offer constructive criticism then how will people ever know when they are erring or need redirecting? Let alone the mine-field created when people ask for "honest feedback" (but they really only want to hear good things).



When I taught in the classroom I always tried to offer students feedback about what they had done in a balanced way - as many teachers do. You offer some good points and then suggest some improvements. As a teacher you don't point out what is wrong to hurt, belittle or discourage the child, you do so because you are genuinely invested in seeing the student progress and grow.

Many will agree with the paragraph above...but what happens when the criticism is aimed at a colleague or another adult?

As adults we are meant to be much better at negating feedback. It would be lovely if it was positive all the time but in reality you will be criticised by someone, at some point, over something. This is because nobody is perfect. The truth is from my experience, adults tend to be worse at receiving feedback - especially when it is not positive - and handle it far worse than school children.

I recently offered advice to someone, they didn't ask for advice, but it was advice I felt that they needed to hear as nobody else seemed willing to say anything.
  • Was what I said critical? Yes, and I don't apologise for it. 
  • Did I intend to hurt the person's feelings? No, and I clearly stated that in the constructive criticism I gave the person. 
  • Was I "mean" or did I "put them down"? No.
My intention was for them to stop looking at everything from a "me, me, me, me" perspective and see how others might perceive what they were constantly saying in a semi-public forum area. In this case the person constantly, and let me emphasise that one word - constantly, several times a week, posting about their financial earnings (or lack thereof).

My constructive criticism included about thinking twice about posting about fiances in a forum where people are basically names on a screen - they are not your friends. I was brought up to keep you fiances to yourself -  after all, who would realistically go up to someone on the street and tell them how much money you earnt that day? That comes across as poor taste and yet many, many people will do this in a forum.

What that person thinks I have no idea...because I got shot down with comments along the lines of...it will hurt them, it was mean...and as such I have now deleted all participation with that group of individuals. What I struggle to understand is why other people take offense at constructive criticism aimed at someone else: the term "cotton woolling" comes to mind.

So why did I leave the group rather than battle it out? Honestly, I am tired of adults who only ever want to hear the good stuff. I don't want to be part of a group who aren't being honest - and honesty includes criticism. And let me be honest, had I left the comment there and replied to the others I would probably have been far less constructive. Plus, I hate getting mixed up in Playground-Politics.

Too many people post comments in forums and are then shocked if someone isn't in agreement . Forums are meant for discussions; even the Oxford Dictionary gives the definition of a forum as: A meeting or medium where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged.

Looking at society is now seems that we have hit a point where everyone can be offended by anything or anyone.

Is this a western-culture problem or is it a worldwide mentality? That one I can't answer.

Why post this on a website about classrooms?
I fear what type of values this generation is being raised to believe and be not just by their parents but by teachers as well. Too many adults (including teachers) fear standing up for themselves, speaking out, or criticising in case they "get in trouble". So what example are they setting for their students? What is most concerning is the thought that one day these kids will be adults and be leading this country.

I think perhaps the best explanation I found to trying to explain why so many can't handle criticism was a response by Aman Anand on Quora (15th June 2012), he wrote:

"We create bubbles in which we allow ourselves to settle into a comfort zone. When we are criticised, the illusion of this bubble is burst as we are forced to acknowledge that reality is far different to the world we have been inhabiting.

Different people lash out in different ways, but these are varying responses to the same problem.

It is only by forcing ourselves out of our comfort zones and accepting our limitations that we can learn to deal with criticism better."


I couldn't have said it better myself and now that I have publicly put my view out there I feel much better.

If interested I read a rather entertaining article by Matt Walsh which was written about criticism just a couple of years ago in 2014. It's well worth a read: Learn How to Take Criticism, or Be Prepared to Fail

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