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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Criticism: is it ever really constructive?

I was so taken by this piece that I must share it in total:

Criticism: is it ever really constructive?

nava December 2nd, 2009
I want to preface this piece with two statements. The first is that I am referring specifically to criticism among peers, friends, and loved one; not institutions (this can range from parents-children, teacher-students to courts of law, spiritual assemblies, etc.). In those specific areas, I think it is well-understood that criticism has an established place and, though the form of it should be edifying, and “constructive” rather than harsh and tyrannical, it is the role of institutions to guide and edify. My second prefatory statement comes in the way of a disclaimer: although this blog is called Bahá’í Perspectives, every piece we submit is subjective and represents the views of the author rather than any authoritative view of the Bahá’í writings. With respect to the following article, this is truer than ever. This piece represents merely my thoughts on this topic based on what I know of the Bahá’í writings and my interpretation thereof, but is not a subject I have explicitly seen dealt with anywhere in the Bahá’í teachings, so it is more like the perspective of a Bahá’í than a Bahá’í perspective.
bpAbout eight months ago a close friend of mine organized a small informal dinner with a married couple who are well known and highly respected. She wanted them to talk to us about marriage and shares some insights with us which they have gleaned after over thirty years of a healthy marriage. In the course of the evening the husband made a statement that blew my mind and that I frequently revisit and meditate on (hence this post 8 months later). He said that when he married his wife he vowed to himself that he would never criticize her. (That’s right—never). He said something along the lines of “I married her because she’s an intelligent, mature woman. She has a relationship with Bahá’u’lláh and she’s accountable to Him [not me, he seemed to imply] for her actions. She brings herself to account each night and doesn’t need me to tell her how to improve. Even if she does something that really annoys me, I don’t tell her. She’s smart and I know she’ll figure it out.” Mind blown.
How could you be married to someone for thirty years and never criticize that person? I just could not wrap my mind around the amount of self control that would require. And is it even a good thing? The next day I had lunch with a large group of people and I brought this statement up. It led to a very heated debate about whether criticism in a marriage is a pivotal element of its functioning, and spilled over into a discussion about whether friends and family members should criticize one another.
After giving it a lot of thought, and admitting freely that I think it is very difficult to put into action, I agree with him. I think the crux of the matter is that human beings are accountable before God, not one another, for their actions. Additionally, every human being is fallible and has limited perception. Often the things I have been praised for have ended up being behaviors I should have actually curbed, and likewise, things I was criticized over ended up being behaviors that were positive. Because none of us know the context of one another’s lives—not fully—and we are not able to see all the nuances. More importantly, even if someone is wrong, why do we need to point it out? It is one thing to have an open and earnest conversation with someone and quite another to criticize each other and tell each other what to do.
The gentleman’s wife agreed with her husband’s approach and told us that in her opinion a lot of Western cultures have a strong culture of constructive criticism but most “constructive” criticism is actually quite destructive.
Another young mother was giving me advice once on how to encourage more positive behavior from some of my students and she told me to always point out the ways they have improved and outline the further progress they can make, rather than criticizing them. She said that with her own children she has seen that when she points out their “bad” behaviors, they seem to embody those traits even more, but when she speaks to them from the perspective of ‘this is where we are currently and here is where we can continue to progress’, their behavior improves.
We have to be so careful as human beings not to crush one another with the things we say, even when we think we are being helpful. Because at the end of the day, our role is to love, support and encourage one another, not modify each other’s behavior and pass judgment on one another.
… Each of us is responsible for one life only, and that is our own. Each of us is immeasurably far from being ‘perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect’ and the task of perfecting our own life and character is one that requires all our attention, our will- power and energy. If we allow our attention and energy to be taken up in efforts to keep others right and remedy their faults, we are wasting precious time. We are like ploughmen each of whom has his team to manage and his plough to direct, and in order to keep his furrow straight he must keep his eye on his goal and concentrate on his own task. If he looks to this side and that to see how Tom and Harry are getting on and to criticize their ploughing, then his own furrow will assuredly become crooked.
~ Shoghi Effendi
On no subject are the Bahá’í teachings more emphatic that on the necessity to abstain from fault-finding, while being ever eager to discover and root out our own faults and overcome our own failings.
~ The Universal House of Justice

There is some dialog that I heard several years ago in the film "Dances With Wolves" that struck a chord
Kicking Bird is always
looking ahead and that is good.
But this man cannot cover
our lodges or feed our children.
He is nothing to us. 
I will take some men.
We will shoot some arrows
into this white man.
If he truly has medicine,
he will not be hurt.
If he has no medicine,
he will be dead.
No man can tell another
what to do.
But killing a white man
is a delicate matter.
If you kill one,
more are sure to come.
It's easy to become confused
by these questions.
It's hard to know what to do.
We should talk about this
some more.
That is all I have to say.


You're wearing my hat.
It's my hat. 
I found it on the prairie.
It's mine.
No, no.
My hat.
That hat belongs to Lieutenant.
He left it on the prairie.
He didn't want it. 
Well, you can see
he wants it now.  
We all know that
it's a soldier hat.
We all know who wears it.
If you want to keep it,
that's all right.
But give something for it.


Anonymous wafan said...

Agreed! No one should judge another. It is difficult, though!

Your previous post . . . how can you tell?

December 2, 2009 at 2:20 PM  
Blogger LizKauai said...

I did not post the pic of the "evidence" that he is my grandson

December 2, 2009 at 3:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There should be no criticism between husband and wife. It never results in change, just anger, bitterness, and irritation.

December 2, 2009 at 6:30 PM  
Anonymous wafan said...

Well, I figured that. No need to post that kind of evidence! Aside of the "photo" of his head/face the other two looked more like shots of Michelle's internal organs. But then, I guess they kind of are. HA!

December 2, 2009 at 6:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Easily I agree but I about the collection should prepare more info then it has.

December 27, 2009 at 4:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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January 17, 2010 at 6:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brim over I agree but I dream the list inform should secure more info then it has.

January 20, 2010 at 11:26 PM  

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