When we are young, we are regularly exposed to both praise and criticism. This is intended to help us distinguish between right and wrong. The hope is that we will choose the right behaviour, the one which gets us more praise. This then leads to us becoming good little citizens who behave in the way that society expects of us. More harmony and less conflict would seem to be the natural consequence of this. It seems ideal but I would argue that this approach creates more problems than it solves.
In recent years there has been a push to criticise children less. The aim is to maximise the self-esteem of the child by avoiding saying or doing anything which may lead to them feeling bad about themselves. So, you praise them when they behave in the desired way and, you either ignore the undesired behaviour or, you find something you can praise about it. Let us set aside the dishonesty of this and focus on whether praise and criticism can be separated. They are two ends of the same stick and where one goes, the other must surely follow. I would argue not.
If you praise someone when they behave in the manner you desire and withhold praise when they do not; it is not going to be long before they figure out that you are not happy with their behaviour when there is no praise. They don’t need to hear criticism to know how you feel. Also, if you choose the path of finding something to praise, they will eventually pick up on your lack of sincerity.
Is there a place for praise and criticism?
There is a place for praise and criticism, but it is overused. I prefer to look at positive feedback and constructive feedback where the focus is not on the person but on the specific behaviour itself. This way, you are not tying the person’s sense of self-worth to the behaviour. They are equally worthy as a person whether they behaved in the desired way or not.
The real problem with praise and criticism
The real problem with praise and criticism lies with the recipient, not the person praising or criticising. When you become accustomed to praise and criticism, you start to cherish the praise and fear the criticism. You then start to choose your behaviour based on the response you hope to get.
But what others think of you is none of your business. You are put on this Earth to live your life, not to live as others want you to live. Your choices should not be based on external factors but instead, should be based upon internal reflection and what is right for you.
If you choose to perform an act of kindness because you think that is what others want you to do, you will only be happy if they acknowledge the act of kindness. If they don’t, you will find yourself feeling unappreciated.
Alternatively, if you choose to perform that act of kindness because you wholeheartedly believe that it is the right thing to do then, how others react will be of no consequence to you. You will be happy with yourself because you were true to who you are.
When you act in accordance with who you are, you are acting based upon your values. Values are critical to your happiness. When you forego praise and criticism and choose to go with your values, you are acknowledging that happiness is not something you have to chase. You are acknowledging that happiness is your natural state and to experience it, you only need to be yourself and extend yourself out into the world.
Values Based Living
You can choose to be happier just by acting in accordance with your values on a consistent basis.
If you need to discover, clarify and define your values, 'Values Based Living' will teach you you how to do so.