Disapproval expressed by pointing out faults or shortcomings

A serious examination and judgement of something

You’re useless, you’ll never pass.
You’re always doing it wrong, why don’t you learn?
You’re such an idiot, I’ve explained it to you a thousand times.
Why don’t you think! You never think about what you’re doing.
You’re hopeless, you’ll never get it right.

We all do it, don’t we? We just can’t help ourselves. We have to do it. We constantly pick at people’s faults, especially those closest to us; the ones we love. Our children, our parents, our brothers and sisters.

We don’t generally criticise friends or colleagues or people we don’t know well to their faces, but you can be sure we will criticise them to somebody else. Why do we do it? What is it that makes us want to hurt the ones we care about?

I don’t know if you have ever heard the term “constructive criticism,” where something is evaluated seriously, and pointers given where improvements could be made?

Most people welcome constructive criticism, as it gives them a different viewpoint (as the main aim is to help, not hurt). But general criticism is not constructive, it is destructive, especially to the self-esteem of the person on the receiving end. In fact, it’s no more than an glorified insult; although parents would say they are doing for the good of the child, by pointing out their mistakes.

A rude expression intended to offend or hurt

Let’s look at this more closely. If I am having a dinner party and my wife burns the pie in the oven, what am I likely to say? Would I say “Don’t worry about it, it’s unimportant, we’ll have something else,” and joke about it? or would I say “You idiot, I can’t believe you burnt the apple pie, what were you thinking, you’ve ruined the dinner party now, what are our guests going to think?”
As if your wife doesn’t feel bad enough already, you have to make it worse by insulting her and making her feel even worse – thereby inflaming the situation.

Are we angry, or are we just embarrassed by the person’s actions? Do we think, that because they are part of our family, it reflects badly on us? If my wife is so stupid to burn the apple pie, what will people think of me for choosing her as a wife? If my son keeps getting low grades in school, will it make me look like a bad father.

Criticism gets worse the more someone repeats the mistake. If your wife burns the apple pie every time, the insults get more and more personal, not just about the apple pie, but about everything. “You’re always doing something wrong;” “You’ve never been a good cook;” “Why can’t you do something right for once in your life?” Ouch! That really hurts doesn’t it? Your wife, who knows has a problem with cooking apple pie, but nonetheless tries hard, now can’t do anything right in her life.

People who criticise normally have to apologise, and say it was just in the heat of the moment; that really, they just feel sorry you’re not achieving your best and you know they are capable of better things; you only said it because you love them! Nice way of showing love isn’t it? “Why can’t you do something right for once in your life?”

Now, let’s imagine your wife says to you “Ok, next dinner party, you bake the apple pie!” You know you’re not a good cook, but you try to follow the recipe nonetheless. How would you feel if your wife starting telling you you were an idiot, that you were doing it wrong? “Why are you doing it like this, that’s not the way to do it!” You would feel pretty low about yourself, and probably start to get angry. “Look, I’m trying my best, all right? Just leave me alone.”

What if you burnt it, and she started saying, “You’re always doing something wrong;” “You’ve never been a good cook;” “Why can’t you do something right for once in your life?” How would you feel? The criticism seems disproportionate to what’s happened, doesn’t it? Almost as if the person has been saving up criticisms for a long time, and is just waiting for an opportunity to use them.

We previously discussed that criticisms are generally reserved for family members, and people you love. I would guess it’s probably because you couldn’t get away with speaking like that to anyone else.

Imagine for a moment that a close friend comes round to help you prepare for your dinner party and says, “don’t worry, I’ll bake the apple pie; I’m not a great cook, but I’ll give it a go.” You let them do it, and at the end, they apologise, and say they’ve ruined it, what do you say? “You’re such an idiot, why can’t you do things properly? You’ve ruined my dinner party, I can’t believe you’re so stupid!” because that’s what you would have said to your wife. Or are you more likely to say “Oh well, don’t worry about it, you tried your best, we’ll just have to do something else” and laugh about it?

Of course you wouldn’t insult them. They came to help you, and made a mistake, that’s all, it’s not the end of the world. The thing you have to realise is that no one sets out to annoy you or upset you by doing things wrong, they just can’t do them, that’s all. So instead of criticising someone, why don’t we offer a little help, a little advice.

“Let’s see if we can do it together; ” or “come here and I’ll try to help you with it.”

If you know that your wife is bad at baking apple pie, don’t just criticise her, all it does is lowers her self-esteem, makes her angry, and creates bad feeling between you. Surely it’s not an expression of love, is it?

If you haven’t got anything nice to say don’t say anything at all

I’m not perfect, are you? I make mistakes. I wish I was better at things, but we can’t all be good at everything, can we? We try our best, and sometimes we fall short of the mark. Maybe we need a little more training or a little more encouragement, or maybe our brain will never grab the concept of baking apple pie, and that’s ok too.

It’s not like the world depends on it, although sometimes we are made to feel as if we have made a critical mistake in calculating the trajectory for the return of the space shuttle. So why do we constantly criticise when we are not perfect either?

A disposition to feel that anything less than perfect is unacceptable

Children bear the brunt of a lot of it. The imperfect parents hoping to give birth to a genius. All the parents’ dreams, hopes, ambitions, and desires, wrapped up into a little bundle of joy. The child doesn’t stand a chance. From the moment he gargles his first words, to the time he takes his first steps, you’re with him all the way! He’s the one that’s going to be intelligent. A great writer, poet, classical musician; a famous doctor, an architect who designs the next eiffel tower. You get him private lessons in music, a tutor comes to the house for mathematics, you are pinning your hopes on this boy, your genius. And then you get his report card from school…

Must try harder…
Limited ability…
Could achieve more…
Shows little promise…

What? How can this be? You were pinning all your hopes on this child, how could he let you down like this, after all you’ve done for him, he’s had plenty of opportunity, he should have done better.

“Have you seen your report card, it’s terrible; you haven’t put any effort at all in this year, after all the money your father and I have spent on private lessons. How can you do this to us? If you don’t stick in harder at school, you’ll never get a good job, you’ll end up doing a dead end job, and your father and I won’t be here to help you, you know, you’ll be on your own. Then you’ll be sorry you didn’t stick in harder at school.

You’d better stick in harder next year, or they’ll be no going out for you after school, no tv, no friends coming over. You better buck up your ideas. You’re wasting your talents, throwing away a golden opportunity. Well, what have you got to say for yourself young man?”
“Sorry’s not good enough; your father and I want to see a definite improvement immediately. I want you doing your homework as soon as you come in from school. I’m going to talk to your teacher about extra lessons after school. I just can’t understand why you’re not taking this seriously, this is your future we’re talking about, Do you hear me?”
“Yes mum. Sorry.”
“Well, let’s hope next year is better, but I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes when your father comes home, and I show him this report card, he’s going to be very angry.”
Great! That’s just what you need.

You’re 11 years old. You’re just starting to grow up, your brain and your body are still developing, you’re still forming your world-view, and the two people who are supposed to love you constantly criticise you. You don’t know why you’re bad at maths, you actually don’t like playing the piano, you want to play the guitar; and you never want to be an architect, you want to be in a rock band. And why not? You are 11 years old!
Parents are the greatest at criticism, aren’t they? Dissatisfied with their own lives, wishing they could have been a famous doctor, architect, or classical pianist, and transferring those unfulfilled dreams on to you. Thanks mum!

There’s a lot of different pressures when you’re growing up, finding your place in the world, going through puberty, and the last thing a child needs is to be told what he’s doing is wrong. “We’re only saying it because we love you.” Nonsense. You’re only saying it because you can. You wouldn’t say it to anyone else’s child would you? “You’re useless, you’re stupid, why don’t you stick in at school more!.” The child’s parents may have a thing or two to say about that don’t you think?

So it’s definitely not about love – because love is unconditional. When you love someone, you accept them for who they are, and accept the mistakes they make. Let’s stop and reflect on that for a moment, because I think that is applicable to children and adults too. How many of us could really say we love someone unconditionally; with all their faults, and imperfections? For that is what love truly is. When we love unconditionally, we cannot criticise.

When the child is all grown up, there’s no one left to criticise, so we criticise each other; and when the child gets married, he criticises his own family. In order to stop this destructive cycle we need to be aware of ourselves; of how we speak to our loved ones; so even when we are frustrated, we do not resort to insults, for that is not love. All we can do is offer advice, help, and guidance.

It does not help a person to be criticised, it doesn’t make them try harder; it just makes them feel bad about themselves. If you really want to help someone (and they actively want your help), you have to take time to understand the problem the person is facing, and decide whether you have the necessary skills to help them find the best solution. Then again, some things are so unimportant in life, it’s better to just let them go, everybody makes mistakes, even you.

If you haven’t got anything nice to say don’t say anything at all

You don’t like it when someone criticises you


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