Can you remember a stinging criticism you received? Yeah, me, too. Words can be so sharp that their cutting edge might as well be a Ginsu knife. But along with the deep slashes a negative comment can make, a positive one can do wonders, as well. So why are we so stingy with them?
The negatives stick and the positives are hard to come by. Let me share a few choice memories I have of “constructive criticism.” In sixth grade, our class went on a special week-long retreat where we learned many wonderful things. One thing I learned about myself was doubt. We were doing an exercise that was supposed to build problem solving (as I reflect back as an adult), but we just found it a fun challenge. We were told to pretend there was an electric fence that was ten feet high and we had to get someone over it. Well, as typical 11-12-years-olds, the genuine attempt at problem solving lasted about 5 minutes, and then the wild ideas started. Giggling and goofing around as a group, I suggested that we try to catapult the slightest built kid and see how far he could get. We all got a kick out of it (except for Phillip, the wiry kid), but later that night, I was served a comment that stuck with me forever. My sixth grade teacher, who I both feared and desperately wanted approval from, got in my ear and told me, “I would NEVER want you on my team in a crisis situation.” Slash.
And right around that time a hair stylist decided to cut my long locks into a pixie. Rocking that look while wearing my softball uniform, I had a woman attempt to stop me from using the women’s bathroom. “Son, that is for LADIES…” Pierce.
Or the many times my freshman English teacher wrote “Rubbish” on my work. Rip.
Another fave is when I was getting fitted for my maid of honor dress for my sister’s wedding. The seamstress said, “You should be a swimmer with these broad shoulders…” Slice.
As I was thinking of this topic so many of these kinds of comments came to my mind…they do stick like cement, don’t they? Well, let’s go flipside, shall we? I do have a couple what I call “life compliments” that I recall fondly. I remember the counselor at a dude ranch the family vacationed at when I was nine asking, “Do you own a horse?” We had been riding for a day or two when she asked this. I said, “No. Why?” and she answered, “Because you ride like you do.” Now that may not sound like much to you, but to me it was the world. I so love horses, and to have someone who was so knowledgeable ask me that, well…just shoot me over the moon right now.
My high school photography teacher is the source of another life compliment for me. After several rounds of assignments, she took me aside and told me, “You may not get this now, but you have the eye.” I asked her to explain what the heck she was talking about, and she shared how my photos had compositions that “got it” aesthetically. So…she may or may not have known what she was talking about, but in that moment…and to this day…it meant a lot to me. I’d like to think she was right, but no matter what, that 17-year-old appreciated the “atta girl” she got.
Unfortunately, my negative list is a lot longer than my positive one. And it is so easy to believe the negative while so hard to believe the positive. Why is that? Easier to accept our sorry selves than our good selves, I guess. But no matter what, words count. So as you go about your day, remember that you have the opportunity to slash or uplift. Your lips are loaded with a powerful weapon—shoot wisely.