It has become imperative to remind fellow Nigerians on the need to engage on constructive criticising. It is my opinion that in a period of national development like this coupled with the clamour for good governance and the respect for the rule of law; we also desperately need moral and socio cultural change. Of which constructive criticism is one in the positive direction.
I was pushed to put this article together after reading several articles, listening to contributions from fellow Nigerians, who are taking the opportunity of the new democratic dispensation and freedom of speech to criticize our leaders and the so called politicians.
Before I go further, I will like to describe what the word critic and constructive criticism means for a better understanding of this article.
The word ‘critic’ comes from the Greek word, kritikos-one who discerns, which itself arises from the ancient Greek word krites, meaning a person who offers reasoned judgement or analysis, value judgement, interpretation or observation. This word can be used to describe an adherent of a position, disagreeing with or opposing the object of criticism. While ‘constructive criticism’ is a form of communication in which a person tries to correct the behaviour of another in a non-authoritarian way, and is generally a diplomatic approach about what another person is doing socially incorrect. It is ‘constructive’ as opposed to a command or an insult and is meant as a peaceful benevolent approach.
It is the process of offering valid and well-reasoned opinion about the work of others with the intention of helping the reader rather than creating an oppositional attitude.
Being critical is easy and offering criticisms seems easier still. Yet constructive criticism, the more refined and effective brand of critical feedback is like an art when compared to nagging, nit-picking and negativity. This is where we have all missed it. We have failed to offer refined and effective criticisms to our leaders which in effect has brought more negative than positive results.
In developing and rebuilding our great nation, all hand must be on deck and this includes that of those of us who have suggestions, ideas and who have assumed the role of critics. We must be ready to do so in a more refined way that will assist in developing our country.
Generally, most critics automatically assume that they are right and everyone else is wrong, and it’s their mission in life to correct others!
Before criticising, check your own intentions for wanting to let someone else know what they’ve done wrong or what could be refined in their behaviour or performance. This provides a litmus test for whether the issue under critique is really a matter of preference, work style or worse, your own problem.
In criticising, we must speak respectfully no matter who is involved. Nothing seems more worse that being yelled out, scolded or just talked at. And all of these seem even less constructive if the person being criticised feels that what’s coming at him or her is biased, inaccurate or unfair, and that they have not been offered a chance to share their perspective on the matter.
In any discussion or article and particularly one where we’ll be criticizing, it’s important to listen, to ask questions, to ensure that we’ve made clear that what we are sharing is our perspective rather than a judgement or indictment of the other person.
I will want to assume that we write all these articles and engage in discussions because we want see changes, whereas it is has been proved that offering criticisms that are not constructive affect the person on the receiving end negatively. While pondering on this subject I asked myself, is it the politicians or leaders that need to change? And my answer to this is a big NO. Every one of us must change our attitude, the way we criticize, our motive for criticizing, stop believing heresies and bringing our ideas to the discussion. When we criticise another, we do not expose them, we expose ourselves, and we broadcast our own weakness and smallness. For as someone once wrote “The most censorious are generally the least judicious, or deserving who having nothing to recommend themselves will be finding fault with others. No man envies the merit of another who has enough of his own”.
This being the case, aren’t our criticisms misdirected? Don’t we need redirect our energy? Our time would be spent much more productively if we would practice self-criticism (self improvement) instead of attacking others. This reminds of an incident, as an employee of a public accounting firm in Toronto, I got a call from a client, a Nigerian, who wanted to file his income tax. Before we got into the issue of his taxes we discussed about Nigeria for a while, and all he kept hammering on was “Atiku na thief, Ibori na thief, OBJ na thief”. I was bewildered, just a second after calling all these people names he asked me if my office sells charity receipts for him to buy to file his income tax so he can get more refund from the government. I made him understand that I don’t indulge in that and the office I work for forbids that. I am not holding fort for the people he called thieves but without mincing words, I’ll say most of us do not have the moral credibility to criticize others and this applies to all Nigerians especially those of us in Diaspora. Anyone who is morally bankrupt, who always thinks of ways to defraud his country or host country does not have the effrontery to criticise others.
How can we see the faults of others so clearly, unless we share the same weaknesses? Let’s take advantage of this clarity of vision by eliminating our own faults, when we do so, we will no longer need to pretend we are more worthwhile, and will therefore stop criticizing others. Like the great book, the Bible say, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye”. Before beginning to criticize, think of your own weakness. This will help you to frame everything more gently. Follow the sage advice of the Chinese, “do not use a hatchet to remove a fly from your friend’s forehead”.
However this does not mean criticism is bad; it only affirms the need for constructive criticism. One that will lift up and not put down whoever we are criticizing. I strongly believe that most of us who criticizes today want the best for the country, but if wrongly done our efforts will be in vain. Here is what Charles M. Schwab (1862-1939) had to say on the subject, “in my own association in life, meeting with many and great men in various parts of the world, I have yet to find the man, however great or exalted his position, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval that he would ever do under a spirit of criticism”. Let’s be coaches, not a critic, offer support and not criticism. Edmund Burke (1729-1797) explains “applaud us when we run, console us when we fall, cheer us when we recover”
In conclusion let us follow the advice offered in the native American proverb “never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins”. Because of the harm we do, don’t look for an opportunity to criticize, for as the Yiddish proverb says “If you are out to beat a dog, you’re sure to find a stick”. On the other hand, if you’re out to befriend a dog, you’re sure to discover its desirable traits. Since we find what we look for, let us look for the positive. This way everyone benefits. Destructive criticisms make us a thief, we steal the dignity of the person we criticize and rub ourselves the opportunity to learn from them.
Rather than judging others, let us appreciate them, and if need be to criticize lets do it constructively, offering valid and well reasoned judgement about the work of others.
Let us shun the “pull him down” syndrome and chart a new noble path of building a country worthy of bequeathing to future generations.