The problem of unredeemed critique

Have you ever gotten your brilliant idea turned down by critique, or lost the drive to arrange something due to all the objections that you have faced?

In a society that value humans’ ability to be critical, as a sign of intelligence, it might be confusing that critique silence so many brilliant ideas. Even the most energic individual can loose hope when a perfectly good idea meets an overload of critique from others, especially when the critic does not suggest a solution that resolve the objections.

The problem lies within a society that has lost the most important aspect of the privilege of objecting, namely the responsibility to solve the presented critique.  

Critique and its Popularized Evil Twin.

The western society loves the word ‘critique’. The use of the word gained momentum from the 1950s and peeked in 1999 before it stabilized. That does not mean that critique wasn’t well thought of before the mid-1900. The increase merely suggest that it became popularized.  

The word also bears different meanings. Its definition actually calls for a detailed analysis, evaluation or assessment of something, but in a more popular understanding it simply refers to rising objections or entering a negative attitude toward something. You might say that the origin refers to a more intellectual based method, while the other is more of an emotional reaction. In some cases, a critique may portray itself as the former but being of the latter. Like the evil twin often does in cartoons.

The popularized critique has not, in most cases, an evil or hidden agenda. The problem is simply that we do not know how to enter a discussion and use the privilege of critique in a utile way. We simply trust the critique to be useful, without understanding the nature of it. For critique has just as strong potential for destruction as it has for construction. Critique may be abused, as well as used to benefit something. Therefore, it is crucial that we know how to present and use our objections in a way that does not leave the critique unredeemed. Let me first give you an example of how a popularized critique may lead to brainless decisions.

The Bun-Ban

In the news lately, we could read that a lower secondary school denied students to give away free buns to their classmates at a meeting held in recess by some Christian students. The ban was founded a critique that a parent had presented. The critique was based one the idea that the smell of the fresh buns could lead people into a something they did not want to attend, as enticement. The ban, named the bun-ban, has been ridiculed by many celebrities and most people seem to roll their eyes when they hear the story.

The story is actually a classic example of the consequences of the popularized critique. We may understand that the principal may have want to regulate non-academic activities at the school, and that he would like to make sure that no one feel pressured into something against their will. But the decision to introduce the bun-ban, is simply foolish. The critique from the principal leading to the bun-ban, almost killed a grassroot-initiative that was open for everyone and probably benefited all.

The Problem of Unredeemed Critique and how to handle it

When you present an idea, you may be certain that someone will be critical. Sometimes it is simply a very useful thing. In board meetings, I often suggest that someone should enter the role of being critical. It is good to raise critical questions and trying to see the consequences of realizing an idea. But I also make sure that someone enter the role of being positive, seeing the possibilities and finding solutions. For the problem of being critical is not necessarily the critique, but the disinclination to find solutions that overcomes the critique. Let me illustrate with a ridiculous example.

A friend of mine had a brilliant idea. He had started an event for young adults where they met regularly to socialize and building a community of young people in the local church. The event was not an initial success, and the attendees was fairly over the target group. My friend, let us call him Phil, therefore launched the idea of introducing new activities to the event. He bought a bow and arrow, decorated the congregation house with cotton lights, rearranged the room, built a little bar (for non-alcoholic beverages) and put on contemporary music.

The responds were overwhelming. The group of young adults grew from 8 to over 40 persons in 3 months. Half a year later the croup had stabilized around 85. Phil threw himself in with all he got, and he succeeded. Still, the hardest part was yet to come. The unredeemed critique was on its way.

Some of those who had helped Phil establish the event suddenly felt excluded, by several reason. Parts of it was related to the sudden change of style that the congregation house went through every Friday evening. Some did not like the music while others thought the bar gave the wrong impression. Some found the bow and arrow offending and as an encouragement to violence. Some also felt excluded since the new attendees took over the responsibility to arrange the event.

Phil was thrilled over what they had made possible. He was therefore very surprised when some of the others presented their critic, even through the local minister. He found it strange that a congregation that had longed for having young people involved in their church, now was making their success a problem. When he asked them what they would suggested that he should do different, they simply suggested to go back to the original form.

Luckily, Phil did not listen to the popularized critique. But such criticism is much more common then we think, and so many good ideas have been buried by such critique. My opinion is that we sometimes are robbed of good ideas and initiatives by the critics. Now, I do not think that it is by purpose.

A Prayer to the Critic

A good friend of mine has the critical mode as default mode. She always sees problems. Once I had to confront her after slaughtering a perfectly fine idea. “Why did you hate that idea”, I asked her. “I don’t know”, she answered. She then continued telling me how much work we had to do to realize it and which aspects we had to look into. I paused her and said, “You have just presented the problematic sides of his idea and you have suggested how and what it takes to solve them. Why did you not do that in the meeting?”.

She suddenly realized that here critique in the meeting was unhelpful. But we both realized something more important. Her objections could have been turned into something very useful for our group at that time. It could have redeemed the initiative from a negative critique and helped us all to see what we needed to do to make a good idea great. By suggesting a solution, she now had made the idea even better.

My prayer to you. Do not become defensive, pessimistic or negative. Present your critique but take also some time to think about how you may solve your own objections. Do not let your emotions overrun you but take some time to think through how you may solve the challenges that you glimpse in the horizon.

Critique – Good or Bad

You may by now think that I do not like critique, or that I even think it is an evil. I do not. I truly value critique. We as humans do need to be corrected now and then. It is a part of being a species that is intended to live in herds. To be corrected by our parents, siblings, family members, friends, spouses, etc. is both for the good of others’ and our own. A society without the privilege of presenting critique is not a good place to be.

It is therefore not the privilege of critique that I question – which would make my whole text meaningless. It is simply a request for us to raise our awareness to the problem of unredeemed critique. I hope I have given you some ideas on how to ensure and create a culture where people turn into responsible critics and not letting their critique be presented without also suggesting ways to overcome the more difficult hurdles on the way to realizing an idea.

I strongly believe that we should practice and strive to becoming better in suggesting redemption to our own objections. For the one with the idea, that would be of great encouragement. I haven’t mentioned that the ones who face critique also should practice how to recieve and handle critique in a constructive way, but that is a topic for another time. For now, let us exercise on how to move our objections from being an unredeemed critique and turn it into a constructive critique with suggestions on how to solve problems. That takes practice, and it is not a natural reactions for most humans.

Being critical is something that we quite easily muster, but to take responsibility and suggest solution is something that takes practice. Still, the reward is of such a worth that you do not want to miss it.


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