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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Critique of Criticism

On a scale of 1-10, what marks would you give yourself in handling criticism? What marks would others give you? What would you like to differently about this, if anything? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, p. 374).

In criticism context matters. We are entering what will be a hotly contested political race for President. We know only too well what to expect—many months of shrill, unfair, and meanspirited highly public and bombastic boilerplate criticism from both sides. Sometimes it's said that politicians must have thick skins. Not really, for the context of the race makes it clear that excessiveness is pro forma and routine. There is a genuine sense in which criticism in this context is widely awaited and severe withdrawal symptoms would occur should complete tranquility occur.

Now, let us consider a fantasy. During the campaign, somehow a miracle occurs and both candidates and their immediate families join a secret fishing trip together on a secluded lake nestled among snow-capped mountains. It is certain that the public will never know about the outing shared by the candidates and their families. In this situation a very different context exists. My thinking is that meanspirited attacks here would be inappropriate and would seriously get under the skin of either candidate. As the context of the public campaign assumes unfairness, strife, and ill-will, the context of the fishing trip assumes camaraderie and all-around goodwill. Here meanspirited attacks would certainly arouse feelings of betrayal, disgust, and anger.

Thus, no one should ever feel they could never be a politician due to incessant public criticism and attacks. One simply has to appreciate the unique context of politics and understand it has little in common with those occasions when a fellow team member, family member, or close associate levels personal criticism at us in a more or less intimate setting. In this context, like our candidates on the fishing trip, criticism certainly stings.

It is well-disposed criticism that deserves further thought. Criticism offered from an attitude of goodwill, love, and helpfulness; while not entirely pleasant, assures us that the critic is not judgmentally arrogant or treacherous. He is not intending to exclude us, but to include us. One good technique I once learned in a speech class is that when finding you must critique another, always mention positives and negatives—not just the negatives. And in response to criticism of this sort, be generous as well. Look upon the critic not as an enemy but as a friend. Assume that he is offering up criticism using the his best judgment—using his best lights for guidance. Sincerely appreciate his concern and courage to speak out, offering him a compliment if it seems right. For, after all, a critic of this sort is paying you a high compliment by being honest and forthright.

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