Thursday, September 24, 2009

Chatting about Criticism

... excerpt from a recent email interaction with a friend and fellow voice coach…

JD: So tell me this then…do you think that there is ever a place for criticism? I really am curious to hear your take on it… the way I see it, the validity of praise is given profundity by one’s willingness to offer criticism… of course, I do have to be careful not to let myself criticize actions or objects in a way that my students or friends transfer it personally… but how do they know that I'm sincere in my compliments unless they know that there is a standard or measure?

jh: Do people have to know they're being criticized for it to be criticism?

JD: Ahhh… you're criticizing my statement, but you don't want me to know it! Clever! But seriously…

jh: Of course there is a place for criticism... I just wouldn't call it that. Criticism implies that where you are at this moment isn't enough, or good enough. I prefer the idea of refocusing, observing, and encouraging growth. Every place you are and have been deserves it's moment of appreciation and celebration before moving to where you want to go next. If you don't fully honor that space, positively seeing its- and your- strengths and weaknesses, you won't walk in confidence & assuredness to the next level.

To your point about a standard or measure… I don't think you need to criticize in order for people to know that your compliments are sincere. Do you need to tell your children that they’re wrong in order for them to believe you when you say they're right? Honesty trumps criticism. I believe sincerity conveys universally without the need for the expression or even recognition of duality. Does there have to be evil for there to be good? Do you have to show someone the depths of your cruelty for them to know the kind power of your love? I don't think so… you have to be honest, and have compassion. To speak with care, realizing that your words can be weapons of destruction or foundations upon which houses can be built. You can be both complimentary and constructively critical with the same kind voice…

JD: Perhaps then it can be valuable to criticize things or actions not necessarily associated with a particular individual…for instance…the Pinto is an ugly car… if I were to say that it were beautiful, you wouldn’t trust my judgment when I say that the Corvette is a beautiful car…

Now, if I know someone who owns and cherishes a Pinto, I think if I were to say that to them, they might transfer value from their car to themselves, so I would probably either refrain or refocus… hopefully…

jh: Is there anything that isn't associated with a particular individual? A corporation is made up of individuals who made that Pinto. And so, I think about who put their heart and soul into crafting that Pinto before making my point.

The real question is what is my point really about? How the car looks to me, someone who isn't driving it, and has no intention to buy it? I don't think it through to arrive at a less powerful, more comfortable point. But a more certain point, that benefits the person receiving the criticism more than it benefits me in any way for saying it.

I feel that is something people often miss with criticism… the goal. Is it more important for you to say how you feel? To be critical? To convey that you have a certain ability for discernment? Or that the person you're speaking with hears what you want to say? Or that they personally benefit from what you say?

One could say that much of this is really an argument in semantics. Still, as we’re a language driven culture, I’ll have that argument. Again, I think kindness can have a strong foundation, and that strength can have a kind one. And I’ll stand by that, whatever words you choose to explain or express it… showing singers their specific weaknesses and/or pointing out and criticizing what they do wrong won’t necessarily make them better. Building their confidence and painting a picture of where they can go next will.

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