OPINION – Criticism isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This is true whether we are the one receiving it or the one giving it. In St. George last week, criticism flowed to and fro like water in a sluice in connection with the final presentation of applicants for an empty council seat, and the aftermath of public opinion. While a different approach may not have brought a different result, it likely might have made strides in bridging some differences.
Critics or bridge builders?
Aristotle offered the only surefire way to avoid it when he said: “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing.”
Few of us enjoy being criticized, but without honest, unflinching appraisal of our performance, personal progress is impossible. This is why we hire trainers, coaches, or mentors who specialize in identifying the specific flaws that are holding us back and, more importantly, offering appropriate corrections.
Finding individuals who are willing to offer criticism has never been especially difficult. Most seem perfectly willing to do it for free. But not all critics are of equal value.
“The motive behind criticism often determines its validity,” poet and philosopher Criss Jami said. “Those who care criticize where necessary. Those who envy criticize the moment they think that they have found a weak spot.”
Critics who seek to build appear to be greatly outnumbered by the ones who are simply looking for an excuse to tear others down. This tendency to engage in gratuitous criticism has been greatly intensified by the impersonal and often anonymous nature of online communication.
It’s unlikely that those sad souls who thrive on snarky negativity will aspire to become more constructive in their criticism. But for individuals who place more value on building than they do on tearing down, here are a couple of thoughts on becoming better critics.
Being complainers or faultfinders creates nothing of value. We must become bridge builders who are competent in the use of diplomacy.
Diplomacy isn’t just a skill for government representatives negotiating the affairs of nations. It is also the ability to deal with others without arousing feelings of hostility. This doesn’t mean that hard facts must be ignored. It means they must be addressed with a focus on solutions rather than a fixing of blame.
St. George City Council
The recent St. George City Council meeting to appoint someone to fill Jon Pike’s vacant seat provided a good learning experience of the value of diplomacy.
When former City Council candidate Tara Dunn was making her pitch for why she should be appointed to the council seat, she pointed out several areas of personal concern. They included challenges faced by those with disabilities, problems created by code enforcement, and worries about the treatment of animals.
The final part of her remarks accused the City Council of oppressing nonMormons by forcing them to live as second-class citizens with no real representation in city government.
While some would dismiss Dunn’s criticism as hyperbole, there is an element of truth in each of the concerns she expressed. But the way the criticism was delivered overshadowed the problems she sought to address. How differently might her message have been received if she had employed diplomacy?
What if she instead had stated:
I choose to live and participate in this community because I believe it has something worthwhile to offer all of us. Over the past few years, I’ve taken an active role in standing up for our community’s best qualities.
The strong show of support for me in the last election is a good measure of my effectiveness in earning the trust of my fellow St. George residents. But on occasion, I bump into the invisible barriers by which we divide ourselves into different groups, especially those of a religious nature.
I want to reach beyond those barriers and help bring us together on the shared ideals that make St. George a place in which we are proud to live. I need the help of others who are likewise willing to reach beyond those barriers to make this possible. Can I count on your help?
By utilizing more diplomacy, it’s still entirely possible that Dunn would not have been selected for the appointment. However, she may have opened the door to addressing the very real problem of religious cliquishness without putting her audience on the defensive.
Her criticism would have taken on a much more constructive nature. It would have encouraged the building of bridges.
When we build bridges to those with differing points of view, we don’t do so with the intent of dragging them kicking and screaming over to our side. Nor do we seek to deceive them into crossing the bridge. Instead, we build the bridge as a place where we may meet them halfway, because this is where the common ground is located.
Just as they must set aside prejudices to move in our direction, we must do the same to move toward them.
It’s not enough to tell people how wrong they are. Real, lasting solutions require the efforts of a bridge builder.
- Letter to the Editor: Filling vacant St. George city council seat
- A Little Over Center: Much ta-do about nothing
- St. George City Council appoints Bette Arial to vacated seat
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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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