There is nothing wrong with criticism, in fact growth comes from critique. But there’s a clear line between constructive criticism and destructive criticism and lately I’ve been seeing a lot of destructive criticism in the blog world. It’s been on my mind ever since I read the comments in this post, and was brought to mind again by Hannah’s article and Dorothy’s post. It’s ugly in the worst kind of way: women shaming other women for how they look, what they eat, how fast or slow they run, how often they workout or the way they choose to live their lives.
I’ve dished out my fair share of criticism. For a while it was part of my job description: high school English teacher. Critique in an educational context (really in any context) is critical for growth. You cannot learn or grow unless someone more knowledgeable than you provides a new perspective and helps you to think differently and therefore act differently. As the one providing the feedback you have the opportunity to elicit growth and change, or destroy someones confidence and potentially stunt their intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth for the rest of their life. It’s a powerful position.
“I’m sorry, but your assessment of archetypes in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness completely misses the mark. Really, this essay is a complete failure. And since I have you here I thought I’d also mention that the whatever Bath and Body Works scent you bathe yourself in each morning is overpowering. I mean really? What are you trying to accomplish with that? Knock-out the boys in the hallway so you can more easily throw yourself at them? And there won’t be much of you to throw at them because I noticed that you’ve lost a lot of weight since the start of school. Too much weight, in my opinion. Eating rice cakes and carrots for lunch clearly shows you have an eating disorder and that is a huge problem. Do you really want to go down that road? You should get help. Oh, and here is your paper. I’d like you to rewrite it. Your revisions are due the day after tomorrow.”
Criticism? Yes. Helpful? Clearly not.
It is easy to type all this in a hypothetical situation, but when I think about the implications of a rant like this on a 15 or 16 year old girl, my heart aches.
Perhaps every point mentioned is valid. Maybe her paper does need work. And perhaps she is compromising her self-worth to gain attention from the opposite sex. And maybe she really does have an eating disorder? But behind all this there’s a lot going on. What you see never tells the whole story.
If there’s going to be any kind of growth (intellectual, emotional or spiritual) in the hypothetical situation described above, there MUST be a relationship. And from that place you can offer the criticism that will help her craft a better paper, help her see her own value and perhaps change her life direction when it comes to the way she sees and treats her body. But those kind of conversations can’t happen unless you’re face to face.
Not many of us are face to face when we type out our critiques. It’s easy to bang away bitterly at your keyboard as you judge someone else for the way they look or what they eat or how they spend their time. In a way it feels hypothetical. It feels as emotionally detached as a pretend situation. But it is far from it.
As someone offering criticism you have the power to create or destroy. To build up or tear down. We may have thicker skin as adults than we did as high schoolers, perhaps the feedback doesn’t sink deep enough to leave us crying in the corner of the girls locker room. Perhaps we shrug it off and move on. Or maybe inside that criticism offered in bitterness sends us to the corner of the locker room of our hearts. It still stings, it still hurts and sometimes it can devastate.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Women don’t have to shame each other and tear each other down.
Assume you Don’t see the whole picture. Unless you know someone personally, see the in’s and out’s of their daily lives you’re probably not seeing the whole picture. There’s a lot I don’t blog about, for example we homeschool but I don’t blog about that. This isn’t a homeschooling blog and although it’s a big part of our lives and shapes the family we are and the mom that I am, I’m not going to write about it. The same could be said for every other blogger out there: what you read online and see in social media isn’t the whole picture. Though most of bloggers try to be transparent, you may never know the whole story. You criticism may lack perspective.
Choose Grace. Very often when we don’t see the whole picture it becomes easy to make up what’s missing. And we become an even harsher critic because the pieces of the puzzle we add aren’t very favorable.
I love this quote because there is so much truth behind it: every one is fighting a hard battle and those who are battle-worn deserve grace. Simply put, extend grace to everyone you meet (online and in real life) and you may find yourself refreshed and encouraged in the process.
Examine Yourself. We often criticize what makes us feel most insecure. When we don’t feel confident as a mother or a runner, or feel not-as-good at blogging or decorating, or feel like we don’t look the way we should. When all those things are shaky in our own lives we can achieve a sense of confidence and security by diminishing the accomplishments of another in that area. She spends so much time running I bet her children suffer and miss her. Her house is immaculate she must be obsessive. She is so skinny, clearly she has an eating disorder. And just like that we don’t feel so bad about our own mothering or how dis-organized our house is or the fact that we put on a bit of weight recently. There is something in me I don’t like in you. It’s the easy out. Instead of jumping to that place of criticism, that’s guaranteed to leave you feeling “better-than,” take the time to find out why it bothers you so much. It may lead to personal growth.
Criticize in the Context of a Relationship. If you have valid criticism offer it in a more personalize context. Send an email. Introduce yourself. Let them know what you see and how you think there could be growth on their part. My husband is my biggest fan, but also my loudest critic. Yet he offers that critique in the context of a long term relationship with me. Often times I bristle and become defensive when he first offers his opinion, but more often than not he is right and when I come around to seeing things from the angle he is encouraging me to, I grow and change. Maybe your criticism is valid and if you’re willing to share it in a personal context like and email and your underlying motivation is the well being of that other person, then chances are you can help elicit growth. But if you can’t bring yourself to offer criticism in a more intimate setting than just a comment field on a blog and your intentions are to tear down instead of build up, then keep your mouth shut.
Have you ever been on the receiving end of criticism? How do you handle it? How do you think women can build each other up instead of tear each other down? If you disagree with someone how do you share your feedback?
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