- the act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.
- the act of passing severe judgment; censure; faultfinding.
- the act or art of analyzing and evaluating or judging the quality of a literary or artistic work, musical performance, art exhibit, dramatic production, etc.-From Dictionary.com
I really enjoyed the responses I received to How Should We Criticize?. Thank you. Those who responded touched on the layers of complexity that are involved with criticizing. Some of the points were:
- The relationship between the two people involved matters in how and whether to criticize.
- People who are in a position to be criticized (ie. students) often have a conscious amount of skepticism as self-defense from dangerous teachers.
- Fear of criticism can cause someone, who might otherwise want help, to avoid seeking a teacher.
- Criticism can cause an emotional “hijack”, which makes learning impossible.
- Stress in the student’s life can raise the likelihood of this “hijack”.
The overall sense I got is that criticizing is dangerous at least and harmful at worst. This is my view as well. I want to move away from using criticism towards something else, but criticism is a learned behavior and will take some time to change. To start, we have to know why we criticize to begin with.
What’s the Goal of Criticizing?
Why criticize? For my purposes, we criticize to change someone’s behavior.
But criticizing and changing another’s behavior are two different things. It’s a particular technique to achieve that goal. Criticism generally involves descriptions of faults and, as the definition describes, a judgment as to whether those faults leave a work with any merit. Suggestions for improvement are then given.
The value of criticism as a teaching method is questionable. For the person receiving it:
- It can feel like an attack on them personally, especially if their current behaviors are considered “wrong”. Their reaction may have an emotional element that prevents learning.
- Even if there is no emotional reaction, for the purposes of learning the value of receiving ready-made answers from an authority is less than figuring it out for yourself.
- Describing the negatives of something may actually reinforce the behavior being criticized rather than be a catalyst for new behavior.1
However, it is difficult to move away from criticism. I try, but I always manage to find myself criticizing. Even this post falls into some of criticism’s traps by criticizing criticism itself. Therefore, I do not underestimate the challenge of finding alternatives.
Nevertheless, I’ll be exploring alternatives more in the coming weeks on Beginning Singer both descriptively and in practice as much as I can. In the meantime, I would love to hear from you. Have you found alternatives to criticism? If a student had just done something that could be improved upon, how could you approach it without being too critical?
We are criticized daily. While driving recently, I missed a turn. I got off at the next and unfamiliar exit. I paused at the intersection to consider my options. The driver behind me let me know their displeasure by a non stop blowing of his/her horn. I gave them my blessing by pointing to the heavens with a single finger. Were they were right to criticize me by blowing their horn. They were certainly within their rights. We live in a country of free speech. Was I right? Actually, I probably could have been prosecuted for an act of indecency, although I defy anyone to tell me what the single finger gesture actually means.
What is the point? It has taken me years to realize that criticism is only minimally useful and could be dangerous. Why one? Because a negative comment is far more damaging than a positive comment is constructive. I read somewhere (with apologies to the author) that a negative comment takes seven positive comments to offset it. Most criticism is given with no regards to the consequences. Why two? Most criticism is too general. You were great! I didn’t get it. We can only change behavior by reducing each endeavor to the smallest task within that endeavor, perfecting it, and then building from there. It is not the job of your friends or, for that matter, the critics of the New York Times or any other paper to do that. Why three? Because even the people who should be able to break things into their smallest task (your teacher, your director, you boss), are often not vey good at it.
My point? You are going to be criticized, sometimes by people with good intentions, sometimes not, often in a not very competent way. Only you can decide whether the criticism will be useful or debilitating to you. Truly, you should cull what is useful, drop that which is not, and move on. Forget it! It requires a thick skin to be successful in the arts, in business, in sports, or whatever your endeavor. You should have a vision of what your successful life looks like, create a plan to achieve it, work the plan, and throw off discouragement as you work the plan. Letting criticism derail you is an excuse to accept failure. No one can do damage to you unless you let them. This is a bit simplistic, but I believe that if you work from your values towards your goals, throw off discouragement, then all will be well. Wish I had learned this sooner.
Yes, I agree. I do not expect that criticism will vanish at any point in the near future, but I do hope that those who are in a position to criticize consider alternatives. For those who are likely to receive criticism, it is absolutely true that they must grow a thicker skin and trust their plan.