We shouldn’t unreasonably flatter, but we must encourage. Unfortunately, we tend only to appreciate results as opposed to effort. And many of us criticize much more than we praise, thereby dampening enthusiasm and squelching confidence. One father who was counseled about his nine-year-old son, Jonathan, exclaimed, “He never does anything right!” Anything? Impossible!
Adults do it to adults as well. Why do many of us so focus on another’s missteps or failures? Oftentimes, it is because you want to prove that you are smarter than me, that you are better than me. Or, you want to show that you were right and that I was wrong. Or, you want to demonstrate how much more reliability you have than I do.
There is another common reason some of us are very critical and impatient. Unhappy people vent their frustrations and resentments at handy targets. Criticism often serves as a ready made vehicle for the expression of your anger and your sense that the world has dealt you an unfair hand. Furthermore, when you criticize, you don’t have to acknowledge your reservoir of anger. You can cover your comments in noble robes, for example: “I was only trying to help.”
People need guidance. We need feedback designed to keep us moving in a healthy, productive direction. I don’t want you simply to be my cheerleader – I need you to tell me when I am being unreasonable and unrealistic.
There is one kind of criticism, however, whose effect is solely destructive. It is when you find fault with something they can do nothing about. There is no point in ever allowing your dark haired, brown-eyed spouse to know that you prefer blond hair and blue eyes. It is cruel to comment to your slim wife that you find large breasts a real turn-on. It is insensible to go on and on about how articulate and charismatic you find your male friend to be, when your husband is an unassuming man of few words.
Criticism, delivered properly, can be helpful when change is within our grasp. Asking a person to change what is already etched in stone will only cause them to feel unworthy and resentful.
One change, however, requires that we only shift some of our energies and become aware of somewhat diverse priorities. We teach our children to value the environment and set aside days for recycling in order to demonstrate that respect. Adults dutifully separate their garbage, putting aside paper, aluminum, glass, and plastic products so they can have another life. Why not then, propose a nationally recognized day each year on which we are especially mindful of treating others with dignity, when we relate to others as humans not objects, as equals not inferiors, as people who encourage and not criticize, as people with the same desires for recognition?