Studies show the early childhood years are the most crucial in our lives.
A focus on limitations at that time reinforces a child's feelings of inadequacy, stunting the confidence that is so necessary for their future growth. Wise parents and teachers need to identify shortcomings, but only in order to highlight areas in need of future development, for which they can plan accordingly.
Often children need their behaviour to be corrected. But more than anything, they need patience, understanding and gentle loving encouragement. The same applies to adults.
Abdul-Baha enjoins us to 'exercise mildness and forbearance and calm, to be sincere, amenable, clement and compassionate'.
It takes a very wise and constructive parent, teacher or instructor to get the timing and balance of correction just right. Otherwise, there are very few occasions when any criticism of others is warranted. No matter how well meaning, it is likely to offend.
The Bahai Writings make little reference to criticism, strongly emphasising the need for forgiveness and overlooking of faults.
The negative effects of criticism are many, yet they seldom receive due recognition.
Whether in an occupational or personal situation, studies show that it decreases enjoyment and confidence levels, affecting the development of a person's self-concept. In an educational situation, criticism has broad consequences. People find it more difficult to communicate with an instructor following criticism, thus reducing motivation and affecting performance. On a personal level, people report feeling that they improve less in response to criticism.
The receipt of negative verbal feedback corresponds with adverse behavioral, mental health and emotional consequences. These negative effects, especially among youth, need wider recognition.
Popular social media even encourages such behaviour, feeding a desire for attention through the expression of opinions on everything; the more negative the opinion, the more attention is received.
Some people seek to elevate themselves by 'downing' others. We are developing a very negatively based culture where criticism often receives huge unmoderated attention. It has been expressed as the "I know but you know not" posture.
Well deserved praise is important. My own rule of thumb as a parent and educator is that to whatever extent correction is needed, I look for 9 times more reasons to praise. As the old saying goes; You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
The Universal House of Justice discourages criticism, describing its negative effects in religion and politics thus; "...criticism is a two-edged sword: it is all too often the harbinger of conflict and contention." Instead, we are enjoined to "...refrain from such a pattern of criticism, which stunts the growth and development of the community." --UHJ9 December 1988, To the Followers of Bahá’u’lláh in the United States of America.
Shoghi Effendi encouraged us to recall Abdu’l-Bahá's words and to "...remember His contempt for and impatience of criticism."-- Advent of Divine Justice, To the beloved of God and the handmaids of the Merciful throughout the United States and Canada. "He feels that you should do your utmost to call the attention of the friends to these large things and real triumphs, and away from their personal differences and petty pre-occupations. Now is certainly not the time for any man to think of himself, or busy himself with the weaknesses of his brother; but, rather ...concentrate in the tasks ahead and be reborn in the service of Bahá’u’lláh." ---Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 92
Sadly, criticism often achieves a result directly opposite to what was intended, when it is motivated by a deep love for the individual, friend or family, and a desire to see them free of any flaw. Human beings are not perfect. Others must be helped through our example and loving encouragement to refrain from that criticism which actually stunts further growth and development.
When conflict is mismanaged, it can cause great and ongoing harm to a relationship. When handled in a respectful, positive way, it provides an opportunity to strengthen the bond between people. It is better to strive and thereby make mistakes to learn from, than not to try at all.
Some degree of conflict is an integral part of any healthy relationship. After all, two people can’t be expected to agree on everything, all of the time. The key is not to avoid conflict but to learn how to resolve it in a healthy way.
This is why Bahá’u’lláh has established consultation as one of the fundamental principles of His Faith, exhorting us to “take counsel together in all matters.”, describing it as “the lamp of guidance which leadeth the way” and “the bestower of understanding.” ---Baha'u'llah, Kitab-i-Aqdas 52.
Whenever we as parent, teacher or friend, experience a situation in which we feel critical of another, the response should always be to prayerfully call ourselves to account, to review our own behaviour and if still necessary, to seek an opportunity for loving consultation.