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Praise vs Criticism

Losing hurts.

Most of us yearn to be praised, we derive a pleasure and reassurance from it. In many ways, we can become dependent on it. Is that a good thing though when you are facing aggressive and objective based competition? The saying flattery gets your everywhere, is perhaps too true to be helpful. For many people flattery is everything. It is that which opens doors and comforts the listener. Yet often it is false and deceitful, a guise of seduction and handed out emptily simply because it is vapid and saccharine.

For those that are looking to accomplish something, especially in a competitive field insincere compliments are often very dangerous and can lead one down a path of injury. To hear a compliment thrown out by someone who really has no authority in a specific field really only helps to boost ego’s, theirs and yours. If one needs cheerleaders and well-wishers then so be it. When looking to improve oneself and to enhance skill sets and a craft praise should be administered sparingly and only then by those of credible repute. Yet, for some reason praise is too often needed in order to satiate those on a given path.

It is in the realistic and often harsh criticism from an honest observer that one can find true self-improvement. The criticism is not there to insult or inhibit, it should be there to both help one improve by correcting or rectifying fault. In all areas of competition, it is in the poorly executed or the weaknesses that opponents and the competition will most likely exploit. In hearing from one inside the gym or work shop such a criticism, especially early on, one can then fix the problem and hopefully stave off defeat in those desperate moments of combat or conflict, where empty praise really matters little.

Specific and specialised criticism usually means that someone has being paying attention enough to notice what you are doing and can therefore offer you a critique. If someone simply says that you are bad or terrible, ask why. If they can validate it with a specific answer then cling onto this. Take it on board and either improve, work around it or prove them otherwise. If it is merely an insult then disregard it because then it is no longer criticism.

If someone says that you are the best ever and you have not yet tasted the fires of competition then do not let this go to your head. It can engender arrogance and prevent you from improving if you take this praise to deeply. What makes you good? Why are you good? And good compared to what and who? Often observers will throw out such compliments for an array of reasons, they may be sexually attracted to you and simply want to seduce you with such lies or empty praise. They may be struggling themselves at an action and are thus impressed with your advanced stage, or they may simply be lazy and incompetent so any one with practice and who has consistency will appear to be excellent. In the end, does a simple and general “you are awesome” equate to anything from one who has no expertise of weighted emphasis behind such a praise? It is nice to hear but it really is not helpful in learning and growing.

If you want to be the best, then you have to obsess over your faults. It is those niggles and failings that will hinder you during life and competition. You at least need to be aware of them otherwise you cannot improve or fix them. Ignoring them or simply being oblivious to them will someday perhaps sooner than later cause you grief or at the very least cost you the match-game. You should know your strengths, if you do something well you will continue to hit it well during training and will feel secure in it. So why do you need someone to tell you how awesome you are at doing the very thing that you favour and are talented at?

It is in doing something wrong, that action or motion that you are embarrassed or unconfident in that will cost you. Not every match is a walk over, sometimes you will be forced to compete under uncomfortable situations you may end up in the negative position and need to know how to rectify this. By avoiding those places and moments of the event that you feel uncertain about is dangerous and will only ensure that your foes expose it in time. This is where hearing the repetitions of those trusted enough to be honest with you is crucial. If they offer a criticism, they can also at times offer up a solution. After all they were observant enough to pick up on such a fault. It is why you need to have those around you who care enough to put you before your weaknesses so that you may overcome them.

Those who can take the criticism over the praise tend to stick around longer. They tend to not necessarily go onto be champions but at the very least better people. They are aware that they are not immortal of invincible and are capable of, at the very least, attempting to improve in some way or some area. They can stick through adversity, defeat and the down periods. They tend to be aware that alternative ways exist and that one can find a solution, solve the problem, no matter how dire it at the time appears. It is after defeat that one really grows, and this is when you value criticism most. If all in life is a clear road and an easy path to victory, eventually whether this is later than sooner conflict will emerge that will test you and here those easy wins will expose you. The foe, in whatever form it emerges does not care about how great you have been called, how much you are adored or even how intimidating you were. They simply want to defeat you. And they will often do this by attacking your weaknesses or simply walking through your arrogantly neglected strengths.

Entire industries exist based upon motivation, self-help and inspiration. Professional cheer leaders blather on repeating tired old clichés about positive thinking and pseudo spiritual mantras that are somehow uplifting and empowering. And yet, they do nothing more other than to make money for those who sell such products. People simply want to hear it, it is emotional caffeine for the poorly motivated, it helps to invigorate them for a time but in the end, many simply reside back into the mundane. When muscles ache, the chips are down and it all grows far too grey those inspiring gurus will not really give you the how to fix or solve the puzzle or problems, they will simply tell you how great you are for trying. Pulp junk for the mind.

Inspiration comes from many places, and simply wanting to inspire others or even oneself by lifting a collection of meaningless words because they sound impressive is not how to sustain effort. Inspiration comes by doing, overcoming, attaining, defying and besting adversity in whatever form it happens to be. Whether it is sport, business or combat one must conquer and defeat to attain victory. A shout from the side lines of “You can do it” as encouraging as it may be for some really falls short of assisting one as to how they may do it. And often those meaningless shouts of support roar above the whispers of advice as to how one may do it.

The illusion of what many term as being the ‘Protestant work ethic’, as though this is unique to the protestant dominion, helps to lead many down the wrong path. It is the declaration that hard work is in itself rewarding and that somehow in the end, hard work will pay off. Hard work doing what? Lifting bricks up all day and carrying them from one end of your yard to the other, is strenuous and hard. But what is the objective? What is the product of such labour? Hard work absent of objectivity, consistency and wisdom is useless and meaningless and yet many feel the need to repeat this empty mantra. It is a praiseworthy trait, as though being a hard worker is a virtue on its own. An efficient, a safe or a smart never seem to take the mantle place as does the hard worker. Many go to work daily and put in time and effort but without a market and purpose it is useless. Just as there are scores of individuals that spend hours exerting their body chasing an elusive body image or the abstract idea of fitness. Over time these are clouds that are wafting beyond a tangible embrace. They cannot be had for long. After all of the hard work and energy, what is the fitness for and whose eyes is the aesthetic appeal meant?

In physical realms, the illusion of working hard in the gym and being rewarded via lean bodies, big muscles and the endorphic rush of such exertions applauds one’s efforts and yet when there is no actual point or purpose to this hard work one finds them self in desperate trouble when situations arise that require skill, efficiency, economy of movement and other non ‘gym fitness’ developed attributes. And yet, all that hard work which in an aesthetic culture of statues meant nothing in the end, in fact it often has the self-defeating effect of hindering the hard worker. But well done for working hard. Just none of it had any purpose. The delusion is in assuming if working hard at something will by default allow one strengths in unrelated but life threatening situations. Body building will not grant you a warrior’s ability to destroy other men, cross fit will not enable you to become tactically adept enough to fight an insurgency and running the treadmill will not assure that you can run with as much ease in the wind, altitude and rain of real life. But well done, you worked, hard, right?

It is perhaps because of this world of superficial blessings and empty praises that many fall into cycles of depression. Nothing any more is real. Accreditation has replaced reputation and the need to study is now the sole accomplishment that many find. People find pride in repeating what they were given at an institution and are then graded according to how well they repeated such information. They created nothing, produced nothing and somehow this invigorates satisfaction or depression depending on how they are rated according to an arbitrary process and in the end, they are applauded. Certificates and degrees are heralded by many in society as being the end game. It helps to create an entitled mentality by those who spent so much time attaining these pieces of paper and yet in a reality of truth, so what? It does not assure experience, knowledge, wisdom or ability. Merely a form of education. But the accomplishment is mighty, so much so that a religious ritual of costumes and archaic hierarchies culminates into a ceremony of photo opportunities praising one in the ultimate hand job of academic importance. After all is done most leave so intellectually deranged that creativity and any enthusiasm for learning and knowledge has become so thoroughly eroded that only the safety of their degrees offer them any real respite. Well done though, all of those distinctions make you a better human.

Once it is all over and the slowing drudgery of the work place or simply life slows down the growing ascent of earlier life, many find themselves seeking escapes and outlets. Those outlets are escapes and those escapes where one pursues sport or activity can often become difficult and challenging. Challenges being something that many human beings no longer seek to overcome. Anti-depressants, alcohol and all the above when it comes to medicinal band aids are regularly sought and in many cases become the crux by which to embrace. The soft glow of the screen reflects fictional depictions of life or fantastic realms by which to fall into, so that one can escape the blandness of a life that they pursued so eagerly. For most the grinding blandness of living is overwhelming. And the high of getting a good grade, being able to win at sport or being treated like a child Is no longer available. Instead one must be a grown up, pay bills, feed the tax machine and tend to a growing family. And so praise helps to fill that gap along with the pills, beer and Netflix for some.

Those who are always seeking praise tend to feel lost or lack a drive that goes beyond the showboating and endorphin enriched sensation one gets by being told that they are superb. It is hard to maintain a dynamic course when over time the positive swells into the negative and reality, that which is indifferent to your ego simply batters and bashes away. The ability to continue on despite this is depressing and can inspire one simply to quit. In the end, it was not for them, they did not want it. The thrill of being praised no longer can satisfy. They need the motivational speaker, the social media filter, the incoming likes and daily pat on the back. But when none of that is available, when harsh realms of conflict arise they will find a place of unfamiliar discomforts.

Praise in the form of encouragement and reinforcement is sacred, it should be cherished so long as it comes from a valued perspective. If someone who has accomplished a great deal inside of their-your field encourages your efforts and reinforces your virtues then take this praise as a prize to be valued. Otherwise it is lovely and complimentary and often a form of politeness but usually it is token at best and should not be clung to. No amount of likes or shares on social media will help you when reality violently emerges. No number of certificates and attendance medals will change the outcome when competition is desperate and high stakes. Only honest, sincere criticism and wise hard work will help to deter the demons of life from snuffing your spirit out.

You achieve and accomplish by overcoming adversity. Not be constantly made to feel like a child with over protective and over nurturing elders. Instead you need to shiver in the winds, to defy to rigours of uncertainty and to stand opposed to an aggressive force inside of your field where you need to defeat or better it. This can only really be accomplished when you accept that your ego is not so precious that it cannot be bruised. Better an ego to take a beating occasionally than you to fall to your knees and to be exposed before the world when it really matters. If you want to achieve and do well, listen not to those that simply hate but those who care enough about you to criticise and offer advice. Those back slappers and applauding jeering heads are well meaning and often kind in their praise but too many sweets will rotten you up and fatten the ego. Prove those that hate you wrong, embrace the criticism of the wise and ignore the sweetened praise of the generic. That is off course if you are serious about it all.

Kym Robinson, April 2017

Published inAll Articles and EssaysCombat Sports and FightingPhilosophy, Society and Liberty