Last weekend, I attended a very large event geared toward girls ages 10 to 18. There were over 500 girls and 80 adults in attendance. It was a fun event, with lots of positive experiences, located in a beautiful setting. The organizers did a whole lot right – they are to be commended for pulling off such a massive undertaking. There were also a handful of disappointments, and there was clearly room for improvement. This is an annual event, so discussing both the positive and negative can only serve to benefit future events, right?
You would think…
… and yet…
On the private forum for adult participants, when we expressed concerns, offered suggestions for improvement, or acknowledged disappointments, those comments were largely met with responses like, “Stop whining,” demands of, “Drop it, and just acknowledge the hard work of all the volunteers,” and accusations of, “You obviously ruined your kids’ good time by pushing your own disappointments on them.”
Mind you, none of the critiques offered were accusatory or inflammatory. No one name-called, ridiculed, or belittled the event organizers. The only people who became inflammatory were those who tried to silence any opinion that wasn’t “positive” in nature. The event organizers even went so far as to post their demand that the group be kept for “positive feedback only,” and that all other should be kept private.
How is it that we, as a society, have gotten to a point where constructive criticism, positive suggestion, and group ideation is frowned upon? What are we teaching our young girls when we tell them, “You can only publicly acknowledge your joy; everything else, you must keep hidden.”
I’m reminded of a friend of mine – a psychologist – who said that our greatest failure to each other is that, when we ask, “How are you today?” we collectively expect the answer from the other person to be, “I’m great!” We ask that question not to gauge the feelings of our fellow man, but to reaffirm to ourselves that things are “fine.” He then went on to reiterate Aerosmith’s definition of “fine” as “Fucked-up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional.” Sometimes we really are “fine”… most of the time, I’d wager… but sometimes, we’re not.
I guess, as a writer, I wholly understand what it is to receive criticism. Sometimes, people are overly critical of my work. Sometimes, the criticism I face is downright flaming. As writers, we’re used to donning our asbestos underwear. At work, I’m blessed with an environment where criticism always serves to help improve the quality of my writing. I’ve also been blessed with fellow writers and readers who have offered kind words of critique that have helped me constantly improve.
Maybe it’s that I, as a writer, know that it’s my job to constantly better myself. And going back to that large group of young ladies and their would-be mentors, doesn’t it behoove us, as a community, to set forth an environment in which they see us celebrate the good while equally acknowledging where we can improve? Isn’t it in our best interest to teach our future citizens that, in life, both giving and receiving constructive criticism is necessary for growth?
I, for one, will not silence my daughter’s opinions. I will teach her to unapologetically stand up for what she knows to be right. I’ll educate her to offer not just critique, but potential solutions. I’ll teach her the idea of constructive criticism, which creates a safe space in which all participants in the process can grow and improve. And I’ll teach her how to receive criticism gracefully, acknowledging the opinions of others and integrating the feedback that serves her, while remaining true to herself and her goals.
But what I will not do is silence her voice just because she isn’t expressing joy. There are places where you can – and should – offer your honest opinions and suggestions for improvement, regardless of the people who just want you to say “everything is FINE.”