04 February 2011

A Kind Word, but. . . .

It always amazes me to hear people pay compliments to other people, and then follow them up with a criticism.  It seems that many people are unable simply to compliment someone or to share a kind word--they also feel that they have to demonstrate how observant they are or how able they are to be constructively critical.  "That's a beautiful dress, but how much did it cost?"  "That's a great picture, David, but oak trees don't get colorful leaves like that."  "You did a good job mowing the lawn, but you wouldn't have to do it again as soon if you cut it a bit shorter."

I think that often when we do this, we're trying to take advantage of what seems to be a teaching moment.  We're trying to help someone else to learn something that we know.  But what we end up teaching them is that very often, praise doesn't come unless it's accompanied by criticism.  We're teaching that no matter how hard someone tries, there still will be problems with the work that he or she has done.  In the workplace, of course, there very often are times when jobs aren't up to professional standards, and we most definitely need to provide the criticism before any job can be considered done or up to standard.  In that case, adding the praise to the criticism seems to be an act of kindness, something that adds a positive spin to a necessarily negative comment.

For the most part, though, criticism isn't absolutely necessary, and to pair it up with a kind or encouraging statement is pretty sad.  What's wrong with stopping at "You did a good job," or "That's a great picture"?  If we stop there and say no more, are we really doing something wrong, or are we simply providing another human being with positive input in his or her life today?  After all, who really cares if the oak tree has the wrong color leaves in a picture that few other people will see?  If David doesn't care, then why should we?  And maybe the person who mowed the lawn doesn't mind at all doing it once a week instead of once every other week, and that person likes how it looks when it's a bit longer.  It's up to us to decide what we're going to share with others, and it's very important that we share as much positive feedback as we can.  After all, what goes around comes around, and people who learn that we're bound to criticize will end up doing the same to us.

It's like donating a bag of food to a food bank, and then turning around and taking a bag of food that someone else had donated earlier.  What good does it do?  Absolutely none.  So when we do share a kind word or a bit of encouragement, let's leave it at the positive.  After all, there are plenty of other people in the world who are willing to criticize--let's leave the negative stuff to them and do our best to contribute to the positive.

So many gods, so many creeds,
So many paths that wind and wind,
While just the art of being kind
Is all the sad world needs.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox 

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