Angst!

Philosophy and the text generation.

A Meditation on Criticism

What's worse than harsh criticism?

 Criticism is part of life. No one is exempt. It can be irrelevant. It can be instructive. It can be heart breaking. Criticism can come from all fronts: friends, work, and family. Some people love to give criticism as a sport. Others seem to never give any criticism at all; maybe it is a fear of receiving criticism that inhibits one from speaking one's mind or maybe they don't have anything to contribute. How one responds to criticism is thought to reveal one's "character" and "backbone." Having a "thick skin" is worn like badge of courage. Growing up, that skin can be pretty thin. With age, the value of constructive criticism--feedback that leads to improvement--is appreciated but it is a hard, hard lesson to learn. As a teenager, one may be suspicious of advice adults have to offer. Remember Mark Twain, "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

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It is hard to get used to hearing someone else critique you or your work, or even your favorite things. It is much easier to do the slaying yourself. We are taught from a young age to have an opinion, make up our own mind, and be an individual. So, when someone chips away at the things we care about, it can engender a serious emotional response. If you are not invested in the object of critique, or do not care about the opinion of the commentator, than the remarks can be brushed off rather easily. However, when the commentary is about you or to something you care about, you are sensitive to each and every syllable. They are burned into memory.

What I think most people fail to realize, and something youth can benefits from, is the tacit assumption underlying all criticism. For something to be critiqued, it has to be taken seriously.

The most hurtful critique is an echo. To critique requires someone to burn calories; it takes the investment of time and mental energy to respond.  It is far greater to be thought of a failure than never to be considered at all. Being a subject of criticism at least lets you know that you had a shot--you had an audience. All great ideas, artists, and leaders have critics.  Be smart about how you internalize the feedback--be aware of your own critical self-talk--and acknowledge that even in the harshest critique there is an underlying valuation: I took you seriously. 

 "Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great." -Mark Twain

Michael Bruce works with at-risk youth and is the editor of College Sex - Philosophy for Everyone: Philosophers With Benefits (Wiley-Blackwell).

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