The positive effects of negative criticism, column by Cade Kiedrowski

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Writing for the Summit puts me, or rather my writing and beliefs, in a unique and healthy position. As the Summit is peer reviewed by a set of editors, and further appraised by you, the reader, everything that I write is subject to the opinions of others. My work is criticized. Often, these criticisms are filled with encouragement and praise. The Summit takes care to be professional and constructive in their critiques, but others are not always so courteous. I receive scathing and downright mean criticism equally as often as the more amiable kind. Ultimately, everyone wishes to receive more of the agreeable form of criticism, as opposed to its antithesis. However, the irony in this is that the blistering criticism we receive from those who disagree with us is far more important and useful to us. Negative criticism tempers extremism, challenges mediocrity, and encourages debate. Many movements, schools of thought, and individuals would benefit greatly by listening to their critic’s words in a genuine effort to improve.

This should not suggest that everyone ought to be an a cruel critic. Without a doubt, we all could stand to be a bit kinder to one another, and hateful attacks on our peers should not be tolerated. It is important to distinguish harsh criticism from these sorts of hateful attacks. All too often it seems, in our eagerness to dismiss negative criticism, we discount it as mere offensive dribble. This is largely due to our distaste for admitting our own failings, and our growing adherence to the rule of “political correctness.” The intention of political correctness is to prevent childish and insensitive hate speech and to insure that people can have healthy, open discussions without fear of being attack. As an ideal, this is remarkably admirable. In practice, it is sorely misused. Political correctness is not used as a shield, but instead as a sword, with which some people smite down their critics. In today’s society, we are afraid to criticize anyone who wields this sword of P.C., and, as a result, their ideas are completely unchallenged. Without negative criticism, their ideas have fermented. Noble calls for equality, for example, have become increasingly extremist, mediocre in content, and horrifically one sided, and to challenge them as such is to throw yourself upon their sword.

Imagine a debate, where one side held a literal sword point to their opponent’s throat. The wielder would be able to go unchallenged, and you could hardly call this hostage situation a debate anymore. Without honest debate, one side is allowed to propose whatever they like, and it can be assured that without the challenge of criticism, these proposals can never hope to come close to being correct. We get this from the idea of perspectivalism, where in it is impossible to find an objective truth. We can only find something truth-like where our perspectives overlap. This is to say, we only find truth in compromise. In turn, we only find compromise by allowing others to criticize us. Through this process of being criticized and engaging in debate, our beliefs and work are held to a higher standard, and the truth is more certain to reveal itself. A simple example of this is having your professor grade your paper’s primary drafts. Their criticisms will go on to improve the quality, and accuracy, of your paper tenfold.

Imagine if Donald Trump went to the U.N. and asked them to silence his critics because they hurt his feelings and he didn’t want to believe their criticisms. How hard would you, and the rest of the serious world, laugh? Being criticized hurts our egos, and sometimes our critics can be rather rude. All people, though, should refrain from taking up arms against their critics through political correctness and should instead welcome them with open arms with the intent of improving themselves, their, and their positions. Too many people are too eager to be offended and cower behind P.C. while still expecting us to take them seriously. As academics interested in the pursuit of what is right, we need to be willing to engage our critics and to look to improve our arguments. There is nothing that should be exempt from criticism in a nation that firmly believes in freedom of speech.

If you value your right to speak your mind, you accept that others will disagree with you. If that scares you, perhaps you should remember that your perspective cannot ever hope to be completely true. As the founder of perspectivalism, Friedrich Nietzsche, aptly writes, “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.”

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