Criticism is the act of pointing out the inadequacies or faults in a person or thing.
While criticism is often perceived as negative it can actually have a crucial role in helping to distinguish truth from falsehood and right from wrong, particularly when assessing the different claims of religions. Given this dual quality, the Buddha said that while criticism is valid, it has to be done with circumspection.
A man once said to the Buddha that some people criticise the wrong but do not praise the worthy, others praise the worthy without criticising the wrong, some criticise the wrong and praise the worthy and others refrain from either criticising the wrong or praising the worthy. He then said to the Buddha that he believed the person who refrained from both criticism and praise is the best of the four. The Buddha responded to these observations by saying:
‘I maintain that one who criticises that which deserves criticism and praises that which deserves praise, at the right time, saying what is factual and true, is the best. And why? Because their timing is admirable.’ (A.II,97).
Two things are suggested here. Before we point out the shortcomings in something or someone, we must make sure we are acquainted with the facts and that our criticism is valid. Secondly, our criticism must be done at the right time – e.g.
when it is more likely to stimulate positive change. Criticising other people is better done in private rather than in public, to their face rather than behind their back, when we ourselves are free from the fault we are criticising and when we can honestly say that our motive is a desire to help the person.
Referring to constructive criticism, the Buddhist philosopher Nāgarjuna wrote in his Ratanavāli, ‘Rare are helpful speakers, rarer still are good listeners, but rarest of all are words that though unpleasant are helpful.’
There is no way you can change everyone in this world to your way of thinking . It is not even desirable. If everyone agrees with you, the world will soon run out of ideas.
There are many ways of correcting a person when he is wrong. By criticising, blaming and railing at him in public, you will be humiliating and not correcting him. Criticism is certain to make more enemies. If you can show concern for a man’s future good with kind words, he will thank you for it someday.
Never use harsh or unpleasant words whenever you express your views on issues. Diplomacy, gentleness and politeness do not hurt anybody. In fact they will open many doors.
Do not feel defensive when your own faults are pointed out. Your faults are your signposts for learning perfection. Temper is a poor camouflage for shortcomings. When someone loses his temper he will blurt out too many things better left unsaid. Never reveal a former friend’s personal secret no matter how angry you are with him now. You will only degrade yourself in the process and others could never accept you as sincere friend thereafter. Others will think you could do the same thing you did to injure a former friend: no one will trust you.
~Venerable Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda