A Critique on Criticism

Kaitlin Bethay, Spotlight Editor

It seems as though the familiar saying “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” has taken a turn for the worst with our generation. Nobody knows how to handle criticism anymore. We would much rather adhere to the “ignorance is bliss” lifestyle, because we believe growing up deluded is much easier than acknowledging our faults.

Of course, our generation is not entirely responsible. The “everyone is winner,” “A for effort,” mentality has been drilled into our heads since kindergarten.  In recent years, society has sought boost our self-esteem through praise, praise, and more praise. Those old “Participant Ribbons” tucked away in the drawers and closets of nearly every high school student serve as proof. I, on the other hand, have never able to relate to such a philosophy.

Don’t get me wrong; I believe empathy and taking the feelings of others into consideration is important, however, there is a point where concern becomes hypersensitivity. While holding back criticism might seem like a good idea in the short run, the long-term effects have the potential to yield less than desirable results. The same goes for not taking criticism seriously.

I am always surprised when my contemporaries take criticism personally or simply tune it out all together. How can they simply disregard or become offended by something that is meant to help them? Criticism points out shortcomings so that they may be improved. Those who give out criticisms, more often than not, are trying to be of assistance. My philosophy-don’t just take criticism, welcome it.

Earlier this year I found myself in a position that required me to prepare and present a speech in front of the school board. I did not want to settle for acceptable; I wanted to strive for impactful. After I wrote my spiel, my first instinct was to give it to someone to edit. After all, two brains are better than one. I gave it to my English teacher the following day and encouraged her to rip it to shreds. Sure enough, I heard from various students throughout the day that she took her pen to it during class.

I expected as much, but it did not seem like they did. Every time someone talked to me about it they spoke in a way that was apologetic, as if I should be upset by it. Quite the contrary. Had I received a page with absolutely no corrections whatsoever, I would have been upset because it would have signaled to me that my teacher could care less about what I had to say. Each scribble of red ink was an affirmation that she believed in me. She believed in me enough to aid in improving my speech thereby helping me stick it to the school board. For that, I am grateful.

Not all criticism is constructive. There will always be a few downers who, for whatever reason, find joy in harping on the mistakes of others. It is up to us to discern what is worth listening to and what is not. It is important to remember that a criticism is only as constructive as you make it.

Welcome criticism, but do not forget to dish out some as well. Too often we criticize others for not working like they should or doing a task incorrectly. The problem? We do not tell them about it, we tell others. The person will continue making the same mistakes if he or she is unaware.

A vice, a flaw, whatever you want to call it, is much like a wound in that, if left untreated, it could become infected and fester. As Count Villiers de L’Isle-Adam said, “There are some wounds that one can heal only by deepening them and making them worse.” No one likes to have his or her flaws brought to attention, but a little stinging criticism now will save time when we enter the “real world,” where there are no participant ribbons.