On Criticism

Do I look fat in this dress?

What don’t you like about me?

What do you think about that?

These are just some of the questions that might draw critical replies and while we like to think the average adult should be mature enough to accept honest criticism, the opposite is most usually the case. If anything, children are more adept to taking criticism than adults because of their less fragile egos. The older we get and the more self-aware we become, the less likely we are to handle criticism. The problem with this attitude is that it creates a difficult-to- bridge communication gap because the people around don’t want to hurt our feelings. 

Illustration: John Holcroft

The result is that we maintain a false sense of who we are and what we need to change. This can be restricting to our self-growth as individuals. Most writers will tell you that there is nothing quite as painful as their work being picked apart, from plot holes to grammatical errors and character design. Many writers sit on their work for the fear that it may be criticised or rejected. My first novel sat in my computer no less than seven years before I handed it to an agent for consideration.

On self-reflection, we can pick out the parts of our personalities that require improvement. It is normally the parts we already worry about that sting the most when criticised. We notice this when we get in quarrels with others and they bring up a part of us we are already insecure about. During such exchanges, there is a tendency to pick out the other person’s insecurity in a bid to be victorious. We do not require much validation for the parts in which we have confidence. So next time you find yourself hurting about a person’s remark on one of your characteristics, physical or otherwise, you might want to take out a second of self reflection to contemplate building a stronger confidence in that department.

Illustration: Monica Obaga

There are two parties in the face of criticism, the giver and the receiver. It is vital for the giver to note that while it is healthy to share criticism, the method of delivery is just as important. If done wrongly, criticism can worsen matters and betterment for the receiver is barred. People mostly discard, even truth, when delivered in hostility. For example, if your partner is predisposed to being a bit on the untidy side, constantly ringing judgment in the face of efforts to improve is more likely to discourage them than rewarding their efforts no matter how small.

Tone is probably the most important aspect of dishing out criticism. With a view that regardless of how old and mature a person might seem, a fragile ego still lurks in their mind, all it takes is a little gentleness to ensure one does not come off as antagonistic. It is also advisable to gauge the mood of the person before doling out criticism. For example, no one wants to hear the famous ‘I told you so’ while still reeling from the anger or disappointment of a situation. 

If done wrongly, criticism can worsen matters and betterment for the receiver is barred. People mostly discard, even truth, when delivered in hostility.

When it comes to receiving criticism, it is important to remember that friends and partners do not exactly think the worst of us. They are usually interested in our betterment even if they are not always able to suitably express themselves. We also need to recognise that we are not perfect and hence need to be informed of our character flaws; that, much of how we react to criticism has more to do with what we think of ourselves than what others think of us. The higher our insecurities, the more aggressive we react to criticism because we strive harder to protect that which is already fragile, lest it falls and shatters.  
The critic must remember to be gentle and the criticised must be willing to listen, setting aside their emotions for their own betterment.