Critiquing criticism (Part 1)

Critiquing criticism (Part 1)

Isn’t it interesting how criticism is both highly valued, and greatly detested?

As many a wise person has pointed out, many of our problems stem from the duality inherent in our language, and in our thinking. Situations, emotions and thoughts tend to be judged as either good or bad, right or wrong, pleasing or horrible, moral or immoral, helping or limiting. From a Freudian point of view, we choose or reject according to the pleasure principle: if it gives pleasure, it’s good; if it causes pain, it’s bad.

In some circumstances, however, we learn to accept pain as a kind of necessary medicine. People often say: ‘Don’t hold back. Give it to me straight. Tell me what I’m doing wrong. Don’t be too gentle.’ Why do so many people believe that if the feedback is negative, it must be honest? Or discount positive feedback as someone ‘just trying to be nice’ or being afraid of hurting our feelings?

In most companies and organizations of all kinds, periodical role and activity reviews are directly linked to salary levels, opportunities for promotion, or access to sought-after positions. Critical reviews can be necessary and useful, of course, when feedback focuses on identifying what strategies have been successful, investigating the possible causes for not meeting goals, and defining the possible need for new skills. When a review is the source of great anxiety and fear of dismissal, however, it’s time to question its usefulness. Because when criticism only serves to block or limit someone, it could be a signal of the need for more discrimination.

Beyond black & white

With discrimination, any kind of judgement or assessment becomes more useful. Objective comparisons reveal more options. Asking questions brings more information to light. And information is helpful when it leads to greater understanding. Painters and poets are good at discrimination. They know that what looks black is not always black, it may be very dark blue, or purple, or green, or a melange of several different hues. And white is rarely pure white. It can be ivory, cream or magnolia. Pearly white, or a translucent lightness that reflects whatever is nearest. Hints of the palest pink, blue, yellow, or grey.

Critics – both inner and outer – very often mean well, which can make it difficult to ignore them. (I’ll be talking about the inner critic in my next post). It can be helpful to remember that criticism is usually based on someone’s personal opinion – and that opinion may be out of date, or simply out of touch with reality! The difference between judgemental criticism and useful feedback is that criticism tends to assume there is only one right way to do things. Reality is much more creative than that. That’s something that enquiry can bring to light. Want to try it? Contact:

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