“Criticism” can be good if it results in a positive behavior change or it can be bad when it ends up hurting relationships and not causing the intended change. Lately, “criticism” has been used primarily in a negative sense because the way it’s used by people.
Nothing seems to gradually erode relationships (sometimes causing irreversible damage) than criticizing people around us negatively. The goal of constructive criticism, as it is sometimes called, should be to correct people’s mistakes – but not to bring them down. What good is criticizing someone when the recipient of the critical feedback ends up having negative feelings about the one providing the feedback? What good is criticism when the mistake or behavior is never corrected due to the ill feelings that one develops about the person showering that criticism? What good is criticism when the person being criticized pulls away from the person providing it?
The following paragraphs taken from Dr. al-Arifi’s famous book “Enoy Your life” provides an insight into this topic. For those of us who may be unaware of how our day to day critical feedback may be pushing us away from our loved ones can take note and look to improve the art of correcting others.
No doubt, some people bother you by their frequent criticisms. Nothing seems to please them in the world. They cannot notice, in a delicious meal, except a strand of hair that mistakenly dropped therein. They cannot notice in a clean garment except a drop of ink that affected it by error. Neither can they notice in a beneficial book except an innocent printing error. Hence, none seems to be saved from their criticisms. They always have comments to pass. These people scrutinize everything, be it great or small.
I know a person, who was a colleague of mine during our secondary education and university days, and our relationship to this day continues, except that I do not remember him ever making a positive comment about anything. I asked him about a book I wrote, which was praised by many people, and of which hundreds of thousands of copies were printed, and he coldly replied, “Well, it is ok, but it has an inappropriate story. I didn’t like the font size, either. The print quality is also poor”, and so on.
I asked him once about someone’s performance in the Friday sermon, and he did not seem to mention anything positive, until he became more burdensome for me than a mountain. I then wouldn’t ask him for his opinion with respect to anything, because I already knew it would be negative. You can say the same about someone who expects everyone to be exemplary, thus, he expects his wife to keep the house 100% clean twenty-four hours a day. He also expects his wife to keep the children nice and clean all day. If he is visited by guests, he expects her to cook the best dishes. If he sits with her, he expects her to talk about the best topics.
He expects the same from his children. He wants them to be perfect at everything, excellent with his friends and with whomever he meets on the street or a marketplace, etc. If anyone of them falls short, he would consume him by his speech, over-criticise and repeatedly pass comments, until people become bored of him. This is because he cannot see on a white page but a black spot.
Such people usually punish themselves by their nature. Their closest friends dislike them and avoid their company.
SubhanAllah! All the while, Allah says, “And when you speak, be just!”
Our mother ‘Aishah – may Allah be pleased with her – said, whilst describing the way the Prophet would treat others, “The Messenger of Allah never complained about food. If he liked it, he ate it. If he didn’t like it, he simply left it.’ (al-Bukhari and Muslim) Absolutely! He never used to make a fuss about anything.
Anas – may Allah be pleased with him – said, “I served the Messenger of Allah for nine years. I never heard him comment about anything I did, ‘Why did you do this?!’ He never criticized me for anything at all. By Allah! He never even said uff to me!” This is how he was, and this is how we should be.
By saying that, however, I am not suggesting that you should not advise others, or that you should remain silent over their mistakes. Rather, you should not scrutinize everything people do, especially in worldly matters. Learn to overlook such matters.
People dislike too much criticism.
However, if you really do need to criticize, then package it well and then present it with kindness to others. Present it as if it were a suggestion, rather than a criticism. Present it indirectly, or using vague expressions.
If the Messenger of Allah ever noticed a person making a mistake, he would not confront him directly. Rather, he would say, “What is wrong with the people, who do such-and-such?” which would indirectly imply, “I mean by that you, dear neighbor, so please pay attention!”
The summary, again is that lets be smart when criticizing our loved ones. First, lets use it sparingly. Second, lets direct it to the behavior rather than the person. Third, lets do it without hurting the other person. Therefore, package it well.
A few steps can take us a long way in saving our relationships.