Monday, July 29, 2013

Phrases and Meanings - II

Everyone who knows me knows that Asimov's words, "Let me make one thing clear. When I ask for criticism, I mean only praise. If you find something wrong in what I have written, you can keep it. I don't want it" resonate with me. So, it is but natural that they will expect this series on Phrases to focus on "I like criticism" sooner or later. Let us relieve them of their tension by making it sooner.

It must be obvious by now that I do NOT like negative criticism. I am of the firm conviction that this is one of those phrases that is almost invariably said when it is not meant. If liking something means the same thing to all people, then it should mean that there is someone in the world who actually feels happy about receiving negative criticism and, bar masochists, I do not think there is any such person. Which means that this is a phrase that actually does not mean what the dictionary says it means when it is used.

Oh! You actually like criticism? Hmm! Let us try you out on an example. Let us assume you are a cook (done too much on literary criticism so let us all have a break from that). Assume further that you serve someone biryani and upon tasting it, he says, "It is yucky!" You are the one who likes negative criticism so you must be going singing around the house and calling up your friends and exclaiming, "You know what! I fed biryani to so-and-so and do you know what he said? He said it was yucky. He REALLY did! I feel like I am floating on air"

No? Ah! This is not what you meant by criticism? Why so? Because, when he said it was yucky, you do not know whether it was because he thinks all biryani is yucky or he does not like this style of making biryani or the biryani has not been made properly? Hmm! So, you do not like this type of criticism but you do like criticism.

Great, then! Let us have our next critic in then. Here he comes dancing in, tastes the biryani and says, "So, you tried a Hyderabadi Dum biryani? Never tasted it made as badly as this" Happy, now? Joyous revels all day and a party to celebrate the occasion? No? Why not? You do not know why he thinks it is yucky? I think you are getting a little too nit-picking here. What? There is no use to criticism that does not tell you what is going wrong and how to improve it? Ah! I see.

Let us have our discerning critic in here. Back comes the same old biryani and our DC has a go. "Mmm! I think the rice is under-cooked and you need a bit more salt here. You probably also need a lighter hand with the masala". Why is your face not lit up with joy? Ah! You wish he had not been so loud with his criticism in the hearing of your family and friends? (It will be an eternal mystery to me as to why compliments are always given in a bashful whisper and complaints aired like an alpine shepherd calling out to his sheep scattered all over the landscape) But then if you have got what you liked you should be only too happy to have your near and dear ones (Ah! how much I have wanted to use that typical Indian phrase - I probably should have omitted the 'ones') learn of it asap. No?

Are you sure you really like criticism? I have tried and tried to make you happy by giving you criticism but you just do not seem to appreciate it. Seems to me that when you say, "You like criticism" what you mean is that you like the fact that it may help you improve yourself BUT the actual receipt of it is not exactly your most memorable moment of joy. It looks like if it is not given politely enough then, though you may end up liking the effects of the criticism, the chap who gave it is unlikely to leave very warm memories in your mind.

That was the exception we have been talking to all this while. The rule is that most people certainly do NOT like criticism but are forced to say so since it has become taboo to say you do not - much like a mother cannot say, "When the baby started crying at 3 AM just as I had sunk into a deep sleep, I felt for a moment like strangling  the little monster"

So, if you guys are brimming with those nice little words of criticism and eagerly rushing out to please all those who say, "I like criticism", know that you are not loved. Really!




42 comments:

  1. Nice article. I think in India we don't take critique very well, neither do we know how to critique. We end up criticising.

    In my definition, a critique is showing both the positives as well as the areas for improvement. Not many people have the ability to point out areas for improvement or subtle changes that can enhance or strengthen it. We also don't have command over language to point out in a nice manner as opposed to words that pierce your heart.

    Lastly, if you need feedback look at the non-verbal cues of the person. When the fellow is gorging on the biriyani, you can know from his expressions whether things are right or not. :)

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    1. It is only when he is not gorging that the problem comes in - you do not even know if it is because of the biryani or because he merely has indigestion :)

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  2. Ha. Nice example of Biryani you have taken up, Suresh. Wonder what Nimisha is going to think reading this post.

    But though I agree to what you say, criticism can't be avoided at times. People who know you well will begin to realize silence itself is criticism or even a bland word of praise like 'Nice one.' Like one of the companies had 3 performance levels - good, Excellent and outstanding. So people whose performance is good better watch out or they might be left behind in their career.

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    1. I do not mean that criticism should be avoided in toto TF! The point is (a) Even politely worded criticism does hurt for at least that instant. (b) unless your credentials are known the recipient only gets hurt but cannot accept your criticism and change and (c) If it is impolitely worded as well as useless, it only hurts without improving.

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  3. A punch delivered in your nice humorous way, Suresh! Well, you make your point really well. But, you know I do like criticism/ dissent/ different opinions from people whose credentials mean something to me. And yes,it must be worded appropriately (not insulting and condescending). I think most people can handle it if the other person's aim and tone is not to humiliate you. And, like Sabyasachi pointed above, critiquing is different from criticism. At the end of the day, we don't want only jee huzoors in our life, do we? A really nice, thought-provoking post Suresh! Makes one think about what we say and actually believe in. And thank God, you did not use chole in the example :).

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    1. Quite right, Rachna! What I meant to say was that when people say they like criticism what they mean is that they like the fact that criticism makes them improve. The criticism itself has to be 'handled' and is almost never enjoyed. Quite a few people seem to think that expressing a negative opinion constitutes criticism and, if the recipient does not like it, they tend to think of it as the recipient's problem. If it is a correction of a statement of fact, the credentials of the person are irrelevant since the fact can be checked but if it is an opinion about quality, there is always the issue of credentials.

      I hope Nimisha is not going to be upset :) It certainly isn't HER biryani I am talking of here :)

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  4. You are right Suresh, No one would "like" negative criticism. They would either accept it with dignity and try to improve or get irritated about it. As you rightly pointed out it also matters if the critic provided means to improve or just used superlatives!

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    1. Always provided the critic offers something that helps the recipient improve :)

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  5. " (It will be an eternal mystery to me as to why compliments are always given in a bashful whisper and complaints aired like an alpine shepherd calling out to his sheep scattered all over the landscape) " - Hahaha!
    "much like a mother cannot say, "When the baby started crying at 3 AM just as I had sunk into a deep sleep, I felt like strangling for a moment the little monster"" - Hahaha!
    I hope I was meant to laugh. Because this IS funny at it's best. Or am I the wrong kind of 'critic' for your blog? I think reception of criticism depends on 2 things - 1. Who is giving it. 2. How it is delivered. :)

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    1. You were meant to laugh - thank you very much, Sakshi! And you have your weather eye out for my parentheses it appears :)

      Spot on about the criticism - I will add a third - where it is delivered, too. You may take your friend calling your hairstyle ugly in private but not out aloud in a party :)

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    2. Agreed on point 3, and on my weather eye too. :)

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  6. While I agree that criticism can be hard on anybody, I would choose to differ on one point.At times, you are looking for only contrarian views and not somebody, who's going to just give you sugar coated comments. When the person giving comments is a part of the process to ensure a better end result, I would think, criticism assumes primary importance. Especially in work related scenarios I would think, review and the value of negative comments cannot be underrated.

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    1. I think that is because we are thinking of different types of criticism, Ash! There is one where the validity of the criticism is apparent - factual errors, difference in stressing of points etc. where the difference is measurable or readily understandable. I was thinking more of situations like party singing, food and the arts.

      But even at work you cannot dispute my points - that the credibility of the person validates the criticism otherwise it only hurts (my first example of "yucky" where even what he says does not establish his credibility); the valuability of the criticism i.e whether it is merely a diatribe or whether it points out what needs to be improved (Second example of saying it is bad without saying what is bad with it) and the mode of communication i.e whether the person is polite enough in expressing it including being polite about where he is saying it (Reprimand in Private and all that).

      So, effectively, when someone claims "I like criticism" it is actually hedged around with so many conditions that it effectively reduces to "I like the improvement in my abilities that effective criticism can bring about. I may not actually hate the person who so criticizes if he is polite enough about it". It is NOT the criticism that is liked but the expected impact and the critic is liked - even where his criticism is useful - only when his criticism is voiced appropriately. THAT materially alters the implied meaning of the phrase from the literal meaning.

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  7. Nice topic-so many views-enjoyed reading this post!

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  8. But doesn't too much praise make one complacent! That niggling thought that your friends are not being truthful?

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    1. Ah! That last line was a bit of exaggeration. The purpose was only to say when people sy "I like criticism", the meaning is not literally that they like being criticized but that they like the improvement that good criticism is likely to bring in themselves - and that the critic is liked, despite useful criticism, only if he knows how, when and where to give it.

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  9. I'll make some biryani and taste criticism or even better, I can try my hand at humour and guarantee my daily dose of criticism (which I'll despise).

    Lol..

    Lovely morning read, Suresh ji. Glad you shared this.

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  10. Hahahhah....Oh, but I love criticism! But only as long as it conforms to the 1000 point rule book that I have written for it. If the DC does not meet each of the criteria 100% in letter and spirit, I reject that criticism outright.
    And I follow it up by criticism of the critic!

    :D

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  11. You have said it as it is, Suresh! One of the things I ask of my readers is for a different opinion, which effectively means criticism. So many times have I learnt from the process. No one knows this better than you, right? :) The thing is, when we create a presence in cyberspace, we are open to criticism and so have to learn to take both the brickbats and bouquets. I would feel that my readers are just being too nice to me if they keep agreeing with me on everything, unless of course...ahem...I am adept at saying what everyone feels :D

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    1. I am sure you got exactly what I meant to say too, Zephyr! That "I like criticism" is not an invite to generally come around and spew negativity but to engage politely and constructively.

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  12. I dont think many people can take criticism. And especially public criticism brings out the worst in most.

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    1. And almost nobody enjoys the process of getting negative criticism no matter how politely it is phrased.

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  13. I see the point you make, Suresh. We certainly do not like criticism.

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    1. I was always sure I would get someone to agree :)

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  14. I have a pathological hatred of undue, misplaced, misguided and misjudged criticism. I would say the same for an applause originating out of similar causes. You cannot justify motivated sentiments in the garb of well-meaning attention.

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    1. I am easily pleased :) Even misguided applause makes me happy even though it does not give me the thrill of genuinely received applause :) But - negative criticism! It better be informed and polite :)

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  15. I think criticism should be welcomed - with a punch on the nose

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  16. People don't like criticism and those who say they do, are the ones who don't care what others are saying. They feel they are the best.

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    1. Hmm! Yes those who do care two hoots for criticism can say that as well

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  17. Well, as long as the criticism is given politely, I am all for it because I believe that I can learn something from it. Also, the criticism should be constructive and it should be specific. Vague and pointless criticisms are useless and wastage of time. I guess to each its own.

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    1. Isn't that exactly what I am saying, Pankti? That when you say "I like criticism" it does not mean that you like being criticized but like the learning that criticism can give you?

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  18. I like criticism only by someone very close to me. I don't like taking criticisms from strangers.
    And now your post has inspired me to add the following lines to the comment policy of my blog - Criticism not allow. If you don't like what I write, just leave.

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  19. And it's only because of your critiquing my critique that I can even think of improving! What do you say to that? :) Now this should be posted in Indifiction too! So judges (yours truly included) understand what really is meant by helpful critique :D

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    1. That still does not make you (or me) like the process of being criticized :) Only, if at all, the after-effects :)

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