Challenge to Improve

“We take care of our own, Murbella. Once you’re a Bene Gesserit, you’re assured of lifelong maintenance.”
“A comfortable niche.” Sneering.
Odrade spoke softly. “Something quite different. You are challenged throughout your life. You repay the Sisterhood right up to the limits of your abilities.”
Dune Vol. 6: “Chapterhouse Dune”

I get the impression that many people don’t want to give criticism today. I’m not talking about the outrage porn on Twitter or other so-called social media — these people do not want others to improve. They just want to feel moral by finding — or rather asserting — fault in other people. I mean people in whose interest (and job description) it is to help others improve.

The rational seems to be that any criticism is negative, as if it were a cold wind that would snuff out any potential. Even worse, some people actively intervene when others are criticized, as if they needed to defend them from any negative feedback. Akin to the “soft bigotry of low expectations”, they don’t think that others can deal with criticism or defend themselves against it. No matter that it might be justified.

But if you do not allow for criticism, how can people get a realistic view of themselves, their capabilities, and where they need to improve? And if people are defended against criticism that goes too far, how will they ever learn to deal with it themselves?

So, while I think the environment should work for you, I am very skeptical of making the social environment friction free. It might be nicer if everything is accepted and nothing is criticized, but I don’t think you can improve under these conditions. Not when it comes to improving your current and future work, and not when it comes to defending yourself against criticism (or even taunts).

In this sense, I think Pausch was right when he wrote:

Coach Graham used to ride me hard. I remember one practice in particular. “You’re doing it all wrong, Pausch. Go back! Do it again!” I tried to do what he wanted. It wasn’t enough. “You owe me, Pausch! You’re doing push-ups after practice.”
When I was finally dismissed, one of the assistant coaches came over to reassure me. “Coach Graham rode you pretty hard, didn’t he?” he said.
I could barely muster a “yeah.”
“That’s a good thing,” the assistant told me. ” When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you.”
That lesson has stuck with me my whole life. When you see yourself doing something badly and nobody’s bothering to tell you anymore, that’s a bad place to be. You may not want to hear it, but your critics are often the ones telling you they still love you and care about you, and want to make you better.
“The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch

It’s something we should not forget if you actually care about other people.