“Criticism” in the Family

Criticism is one thing I had to do in the classroom, following a speech given by a student who was there to get criticism because he or she felt the need to take a course in public speaking to improve his or her public speaking for the good of any speaking performance OUT THERE! Some sort of a career hung in the balance, was probably the thought.

But there was “FEAR!” Of what? People, but especially that critical mass in an audience of potential customers and of potential bosses and of potential strangers making evaluations for any cause. A personality hung in the balance.

Criticism by the teacher of public speaking was faced bravely. It was up to the teacher to break the “bad news”. But is was best if the teacher would break the “good news” first in order to settle the fears before facing what must then be a course of “reconstruction”.

So, any teacher’s skill is a question to be begged. “Who are you to be criticising me?” The critic has to have credibility, beginning with the question of standing, the ethos that goes before, and stands as a question in the mind of the one to be criticised.

The parent is a teacher, and therefore a critic. That almost goes without saying, but you had better not NOT know that. Are the siblings teachers, too? Yes, in round-about way. Brothers and sisters will model behavior for the younger kid to pick up, regardless of the parents’ assent. But those infantile “models” of behavior are definitely not critics. What do they know of the responsibilities of a critic?

Responsibilities of the Critic

The critic-teacher-parent just HAS TO WORK FROM A CRITICAL APPARATUS. Such an apparatus is a set list, or table, of criteria by which behavior is to be judged. When is the last time you saw a family list of behaviors by which deportment is to be judged? Well, for starters, everyone has heard of the Golden Rule: one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.

The parent must have a list of prescriptions in the nature of that Golden Rule. Discuss that with the kids!

I like the Kantian statement:
The ethic is the categorical imperative of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), a world renowned philosopher, stating that one must act in such a way that you can will that your act should be a universal law. Discuss that with the kids!

And begin generating the family commandments.

Each person should (ought to? may? will? must?) adopt that simple guide to his or her behavior. That is the question. Your behavior, whichever specific one you engage in, has a high quality, like the Golden Rule, that you would recommend as a model for all other people in your society, a social “good”.

For one, not simple instance, I think the procedures of science and scientists used to demonstrate truth and to differentiate truth (dependable, reliable knowledge) from falsity (undependable, unreliable knowledge), are excellent guides for behavior in public and also in the home. Questioning-behavior is the yield. That should become one of the main transfers of training from the classes in science into the society at large, starting with the young. Good criticism is good questioning.

The father and the mother must be critics of their children’s acts. They should be working from an agreed upon catalog of behavioral prescriptions. Pre-planned? Or made up as you go along? Perhaps they might encounter a situation for which they have not considered an appropriate principle, or rule. Huddle-up folks! Agree on one! Then deliver your agreed-upon rule, or policy, Both together, in front of the youngster. You two will become the enforcers of your own golden rules.

Criticism begins with the credibility of the critic(s). The parents are credible. Are the siblings ever to be credible critics? Certainly. But only in a family context, not in front of friends or acquaintances. Face must be saved. The siblings are critics in training, in how it is done. Any “outsiders” are not in this game!

Criticism must be delivered with a constructive (well moderated, never sounding angry or scolding) tone of voice and purpose. In a mood of positivity, nurturing, friendly, but adamant.

Start with the good, the praiseworthy criteria you would reward, the youngster as a good person, the act as inappropriate (NOT BAD), inefficient, unskilled, etc., before introducing what might be done instead to improve, what must be improved, or changed. Preach a bit about the nature of “change”. Understand it is hard, disconcerting, upsetting, rarely easy, emotionally upsetting or uncomfortable to do something differently. Substitute this in place of that. That is the essence of being constructive. Then reward a successful substitution. (Do not bribe the new into being. The reward is respect, not $$, or a piece of cake.)

Change must be constructive, one way of acting that can be done instead of the unacceptable way of acting. Evaluate the consequences of better behavior. Discuss that with the learner.

I know that now, but I did not do that as I would have liked as a parent. In hindsight, I wish . . . . . . . . !

Siblings can perform a reinforcing function. An atmosphere of good criticism, helpful, done the right way, can be established when the family starts. And when is that? At the marriage!

Before children. The commandments start to be listed then. They may be silent understandings. Praise the newlyweds who start their interpersonal “contract” before kids, settled in peace and trust. The wife with the husband. The husband with the wife. Each being the good critic of the other, in a more formal critical approach to the marriage. Sensible. Reasonable. Conversational. No fighting. No anger of defensiveness from perceived attacks on one’s (whatever, manhood? femininity?) Love is not all “HIGH PASSION”! It is care. With dignity. (I define “dignity” as “having choices”. There is some very tiny, minimal dignity in the robber shouting at gun-point, “Your money or your life!”) Choices. Plan them. Habituate them. Teach them. Be the good (skillful) critic! Save yourself and your family a carload of trouble.

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One Comment

  1. For sure. How come didn’t I contemplate that?


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