One of the questions we ask our prospective nursing students is: How do you handle constructive criticism? Sometimes I wonder why we need to put the word ‘constructive’ in front, shouldn’t all criticism be constructive? If you think about it, criticism should be a means to help you to correct a fault, to improve. But we often deliver our comments in a destructive way, either not recognizing or not caring that we are being unnecessarily unkind.
When it comes to our nearest and dearest, we may think it is our duty to help them to see the error of their ways. And we may expect that they will appreciate the fact that we care enough to let them know. Do we think of the best way to frame our suggestions? Or do we just ‘throw words’ with no thought to their reception. As children we used to say ‘sticks and stone may break my bones but words can never hurt me’. Yet even those words were often said to try to hide the very hurt they denied.
We can be cruel. We may say things without thinking, or do things unconsciously, not paying attention to their effect. We may even think we are being funny, but there may be barbs hidden in those jokes.
This week was a stressful one. There were deadlines to meet, multiple papers to grade in a short amount of time, not enough hours in the day. And so I found myself unable to exercise the type of patience I expect of myself. Those who were closest to me (both physically and emotionally) got to see a side of me that I like to pretend does not exist. Like a spinning top I whirled, I flew, I freaked out, I dropped things, I lost things, I found things, I demanded things and overall I was the opposite of the calm, Zen-like being that I aspire to be. Thankfully my friends and co-workers mostly reacted by looking at me with slightly raised eyebrows, ‘you OK?’ they asked me. Which helped to break the cycle.
But then comes the critique, the reflection. At the end of such a day I drove home upset with myself. I should not have let the workload get to me. I should see that it is just a job, and what gets done gets done. I should remember not to sweat the small stuff, because after all, it is all small stuff (thanks Dr. Carlson for that advice!). After a few more miles of this self-criticism I tried to work on not criticizing myself. After all, wasn’t I entitled to my feelings? So now I was not only stressed out because of the stressful day, I was stressed out for reacting in a stressed out way! If only I got paid for all this hard work of self-analysis!
But the point is to learn from life. If we do not get a lesson out of our struggles and woes, then we are not progressing. The goal then should be to be more accepting of our own and other people’s weaknesses. To recognize that no one is perfect, nobody goes through life without making mistakes. We should be a little more tolerant of our own and other people’s imperfections. And when we think it is time to tell someone about their flaws we should stop and think: Am I the best person to deliver this message? Can I say it in a way that helps without hurting? What is my motivation for addressing this issue? If we are not careful we then start a dialogue back and forth in which ugly and unnecessary things are said.
There is a beautiful concept, the act of unconditional love. Most of us feel it when first we see our newborn child or grandchild. It may not be as easy to feel as that child grows into a difficult teenager, or an adult who is not the person we hoped they would be. And it may be hardest of all for us to feel it for ourselves. A self-acceptance, a self-celebration of the person we are after the life we have lived. But if we were more patient with ourselves, perhaps it would be easier to be more uncomplaining about others. If we were truly happy with ourselves we wouldn’t be so quick to criticize others.
The beautiful thing about modern technology is the speed of connection. Yet that very speed means that it is too easy to react without reflection. With a rapid tap of some keys, and a hit of the send button, we have delivered harsh words, badly thought out ideas, and destructive comments. The old Jamaican saying ‘is not everything good fi eat, good fi talk’ comes to mind. Some things can be left unsaid, some thoughts should be kept to ourselves. Maybe, instead of hitting ‘send’ we should re-read, re-flect, and de-lete. I’m just saying!
So this Friday morning I am recommending some reflective time. My father loved to end his sermons with the Biblical admonition: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Perhaps if we could spend just a few moments in thought we could recognize that some things do not need to be commented upon.
I must thank my editorial staff for pointing out to me that the Bob Marley quote of last week actually was first spoken by the Jamaican prophet Marcus Mosiah Garvey, in 1937: “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind.”
With these inspiring words ringing in our ears, I hope everyone will have a great weekend of reflection. Breathe before you react – it helps! I will try to take my own advice also! Have a wonderful Friday!