There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing and be nothing.

— Aristotle

There are three types of criticism: constructive criticism,  out-and-out-bitchy-I-want-to-bring-you-down criticism and self criticism. To be on the receiving end of all three is to be human.

Being critical is something we can all do; being tactfully critical is something only a few do well. I am not one of the few, although I do try, and I think I have become better as I have gotten older.

I see little point in ‘beating around the bush’ — if something is bad, it does nobody any favours to say it is good. The way you say it, though, is paramount. But, being critical in a kind, constructive way is difficult — equally for your word selection as for being able to work out how the recipient is going to ‘take it’.

Some people are overly sensitive to criticism. It seems it doesn’t matter what you say, how you say it or the extent to which you buffer it with positives — these people are going to react poorly to whatever you tell them. Unfortunately, these very same people are also often the ones asking, ‘What do you think?’

Low self-esteem is my answer for a lot of human traits, but particularly the criticism sensitive gang. I feel for people who suffer (and ‘suffer’ is the right word) from low self-esteem; however telling them things that simply aren’t true is not going to fix this as they know they aren’t true. Telling them ‘home truths’ is not helpful either. Perfectionism (often linked with low self-esteem, especially in my case) and an inflated sense of self-worth can, I think, also cause over-sensitivity to criticism.

Thankfully, I only know two such people (and I know for a fact neither of them read this blog). For my own sanity it has come to the point where I say nothing, lest my utterances be construed as criticism — for which  I will then be criticised for being too critical.

So, I suppose you could say I am saying nothing in order to avoid being criticised for being critical. (Posts abound on Facebook about ‘toxic’ people and the need to expel them from your life … food for thought there.)

Self criticism is something I indulge in a lot. Too much. If anyone thinks I am being critical of them, they need to get inside my head for an hour. It’s an absolute bun fight in there:

‘Why did you say that?’

‘Couldn’t you have said that in a nicer way?’

‘What were you thinking?’

‘I hate myself for saying/doing/thinking that.’

‘Don’t write that, people will be offended.’

‘You should wear make-up/jewellery/nicer clothes/high heels …’

‘Surely you could be more understanding/tolerant/kind …’

I could go on … and on …

There are times I have to speak sternly to myself and tell that critical little voice to ‘Shut up!’

But, I also have to be careful, because if I tell my voice to can it, sometimes it turns its frustration on to others instead. This has been known, to my shame, to be the bitchy type of criticism, or the unfiltered criticism where I just blurt out what I think without editing it. This understanding of how ‘I’ function has been a work in progress for several years. I am not entirely sure I will ever nail it.

As for being the recipient of criticism, growing a thicker skin and trying to search for the actionable advice within the criticism before discarding or retaliating to it is, in my opinion, the only way to deal with it.

I am not a psychologist, and have no training in this field apart from two years of ‘psychology’ in Years 11 and 12; this is just what I have learned about myself and what I do.

As a perfectionist, it is really difficult to deal with criticism, however well intended, because it means I haven’t been perfect. Again, this is something I have had to chip away at over the years — the acceptance that I can’t be perfect (all the time) makes criticism easier to deal with. Resilience, confidence and a small amount of ‘stuff you’ attitude (when appropriate) also helps.

In teaching, we are at the mercy of criticism all the time: from ourselves, from our students, from the parents, from our colleagues, from the bigwigs in the department and from the media. Oh, and from just about any other Tom, Dick or Harry who happens to find out what my job is. A thick skin is useful. But seeking opportunities to be judged and critiqued is even more important to grow in our profession. It can be extremely useful to ask students, ‘What could I have done better to explain this?’ or to request a colleague view a certain aspect of your lesson delivery and then tell you what they thought. Confronting, but useful. More teachers need to do this. I like to think I do, but I know I don’t do it often enough.

In dragon boating we are being watched by our coaches all the time, we can ask a fellow paddler to watch a certain aspect of our technique and give us feedback, and we are video-reviewed twice a year. The feedback is amazing if we let it be; devastating if we let it be. The opportunity to be seen by other eyes, or by your own eyes via video, should be embraced, but it is difficult to do. We work so hard at every training session to fix our stroke technique and our timing, then BAM, one video viewing knocks it all sideways.

There are times when, in both pursuits, I or someone I know has copped unwelcome, unnecessary and/or unrelenting criticism. Sometimes it has been well-intended, but just too much of it, on too many aspects, all at once. That is demoralising and no matter how strong or resilient or thick-skinned you are, you can not deal with it effectively or rationally.

On the whole, though, criticism should be viewed as a positive.

Taking criticism for my teaching and for the way I paddle is hard — but it is a necessary hard. If I don’t wish to be criticised, I might as well give them up now.

I wouldn’t teach or paddle (do nothing), I would no longer talk or write about teaching or paddling (say nothing) and I could no longer refer to myself as a teacher or paddler (be nothing).

That would suck.

It would be lovely to live in a world where everyone was perfect … or would it?

I rather think it could be quite boring.

Learning is a good thing, and to learn we need to be criticised.

ID-100260522 criticism
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at


2 thoughts on “criticism

  1. I just love Aristotle’s quote: ‘THERE IS ONLY ONE WAY TO AVOID CRITICISM: do nothing, say nothing and be nothing’. How can I relate to this quote! As a female in the bad old days, it was my duty ‘to be seen and not heard’. As a female, I was allowed to listen, not express an opinion and SHUT UP!!! When I began teaching, a long, long time ago, I was paid a lot less than my male counterparts and was denied many of today’s basic human rights. The woman’s place was in the home and education was not considered necessary for females to lead fulfilling lives. Thank goodness for great changes that have evolved over the years, especially for females! How much more satisfying our lives have become! How wonderful to be accepted and not ‘put down’ by cruel criticism.

    How important it is to criticise and be criticised to mould us into better human beings! With my teacher hat on, I have always tried to impress on the students in my care, that criticism is a very powerful and worthwhile pursuit, with the proviso that criticism should be ‘constructive’ and not ‘destructive’. I regularly invite criticism from students…What am i doing wrong? How could I explain / structure better learning experiences that engage and inspire? How can I be a better teacher? I deliberately model ‘reflection’ in my life. I trust that students are empowered and are invited to think about their learning, to inquire, so that desired outcomes are achieved.

    Nevertheless, none of us really ‘enjoy’ being criticised. The process can cause hurt and actually make us decide to ‘shut up’. This particularly happened to me in the past. It is my opinion, however, that we should embrace criticism in our lives. It helps us become more resilient and responsible citizens in our global world.

    C.S. Lewis stated…. ‘Experience: that most brutal of teachers.’
    I would venture to say…….Criticism: that most brutal, yet empowering of teachers.
    It’s true, that ‘the truth often hurts’, but as I have matured, it is my opinion that truth really helps me in my quest for knowledge.
    I keep thinking about Socrates’ definition of knowledge of which I was informed at a recent humbling learning experience:
    Knowledge is justified true belief.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. They really did break the mould after you were made Janet. You have this wealth of experience which, unlike so many other people, you use productively to shape yourself into a better person. I love reading about your background as a teacher, and of growing up in a world that is so different to the one we live in now. How things have changed … some for the better and some not.
      I also love how your reply is nearly as long as my post. Keep them coming!


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