Recently while driving with my family in Anchorage, I almost crashed into another car. When I made the error, my parents were quick to correct me, loudly, so that it could be righted before we all died. Shortly after the near accident, I got defensive and angry. Why would they yell at me? Nothing happened! I was scared and so I took it out on them.
Winston Churchill said, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
Now calm and safe, I understand that my parents were just helping me, and I needed it. However poorly wrapped and unattractive it may seem, criticism is a gift, and it is important to look for the treasure inside.
In situations where others give us advice or correction, we can choose our response. During my first experience on a sports team, I didn’t like talking to my coach about my mistakes. I didn’t like being criticized, and would often come up with an excuse that explained why I was messing up. Now I understand that the best response to a coach’s direction is, “Thank you, I’ll work hard not to do that again.” Using this mentality, I’ve become a better athlete and look for the gift of criticism more often.
When we receive unwanted criticism it is important to think about what motivates the comment before we respond. Usually the person is trying to help you, not hurt you. When anyone gives advice, they are risking your rejection. This makes those who give us correction all the more special. They care about us enough to be brave to say the hard things.
The is great truth in a line from the movie “Shrek,” where the ogre tells Donkey that it is no wonder he doesn’t have any friends. Donkey, looking for the positive, says “Wow! Only a true friend would be that truly honest!”
Listening and accepting advice or constructive criticism is a skill that can be practiced. The first step is to stop and think before responding. Look for the motivation behind the comment. Next, find a part of the criticism that you can agree with, and even more important — THANK the critic! For example, going back to my driving story, I could have responded differently — stopping to think, and thanking my parents for their advice and concern.
After mastering these techniques, you can deepen your skill by taking it one step more — asking for critique. This type of strategy can have big payoffs. In the weeks leading up to an audition for a selective choir group at school, I worked and focused in class so that I could perform well for the evaluation. Knowing it would be competitive, I asked my choir teacher what I could improve and work on so that I would have a better chance of making the group. Though it was hard to ask for criticism, it was worth it.
Now happily participating in the choir group I auditioned for, my choir teacher told the students why each of us had made the cut. One of the reasons he said I had been selected was that he could tell I was a hard worker. Without asking for criticism, my teacher would not have known that I wanted to improve and was willing to work to do so.
It’s a good thing that everyone’s a critic, because criticism is one of the most powerful gifts you will receive.
This column is the opinion of Claire Kincaid, a sophomore at Soldotna High School.