The Difference Between Constructive and Destructive Criticism
Earlier last year, the editor of The Commentator published an article defending the fact that the newspaper often critiques various aspects of Yeshiva University and its Roshei Yeshiva. He argued that it is important for the paper to be a “check on the system”, and that exposing faults can be a catalyst for growth. Indeed, the editor has remarked how several critical articles that appeared in The Commentator have arguably influenced the institution for the better.
It is important to recognize, however, the difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism. Constructive criticism focuses on actions and ideas; destructive criticism focuses on people. I would posit that constructive criticism tries to understand where the other side is coming from and work from there; destructive criticism takes the critic’s way of looking at things for granted. Constructive criticism crafts an argument in a way of respect and meticulousness in order so that it should promote change; destructive criticism is primarily concerned with complaining and bashing the other side as much as possible.
The Chofetz Chaim particularly emphasized the importance of offering constructive criticism while avoiding destructive criticism when he wrote about the paramount requirement to say Lashon Hara when it is L’Toeles (for a purely constructive purpose), but the grave severity of saying it when it is not. While this is true regarding all forms of communication, media outlets such as The Commentator, which speak about so many controversial topics in such a public fashion, must be particularly cognizant of this fine line and exhibit the utmost fear of Heaven when publishing.
Of course, some will claim that a lack of “checks on the system” is bad; if someone makes a mistake, it is the job of a newspaper to hold them accountable, by whatever means necessary. It is precisely the truth in this argument that compels me to emphasize the difference between constructive and destructive criticism. I am not advocating for censorship in the slightest. Rather, that an argument must be carefully checked, both in terms of its validity and in how it’s presented, in order to ensure that it’s accomplishing something productive — not simply giving a narrow-minded view or being unnecessarily derisive.
Publishing unnecessarily derisive articles is not only unproductive and sinful, but it also diminishes the author’s ethos — anyone reading it sees that the author is coming from a perspective that does not respect those they disagree with. According to exploringyourmind.com, ...by criticizing the same thing over and over we are reflecting what we dislike about ourselves. We project our fears and insecurities. In fact, when we do not accept our flaws and instead look for them in others, we generate rejection and activate criticism. This phenomenon is known as “self-disowning.” It is one thing to prefer a particular viewpoint; it is entirely another thing to delegitimize or ridicule other viewpoints. I do not mean to point fingers at any individual students for slander; everyone means well and is struggling to arrive at the truth. Nor do I discourage the expression of controversial opinions when done appropriately. Rather, I want to raise awareness of an issue, namely a basic lack of respect for our elders and mentors, that permeates our culture, erodes the foundation of Judaism, and often serves as an impediment towards truth. Suffice to say that every movement in history that broke away from Orthodoxy was a result of a lack of this trait. Let us all strive, both in our public and personal encounters, to recognize our place and appreciate our teachers.
Photo Caption: I would posit that constructive criticism tries to understand where the other side is coming from and work from there; destructive criticism takes the critic’s way of looking at things for granted.
Photo Credit: Pixbay