Saturday, April 15, 2017

Of critics and criticism

Among the numerous quotes from Kabir Das that I read in my childhood, there was one whose logic refused to get registered in my mind, only to become the top-of-mind recall in my adulthood. It goes like this ...

"Nindak niyare rakhiye, angan kuti chhawai; bin pani, sabun bina, nirmal kare subhav"

... which literally means "Give your critic a shelter in the courtyard of your house. He will help clean your nature, without using soap and water." In other words, it means that we should keep critics somewhere around us, so that you get to know, and hence a chance to correct, your faults.

In those days, it used to be difficult to fathom the context in which these words were said. After all, how can you let somebody, who always criticizes you, stay so close to you, and let him do what he / she does best - criticize. But then, over years, having gone through such a process myself, what with constantly nagging relatives, always ready to pounce on smallest of mistakes, I realized it makes at least some sense. Mr. Das would not have said what he said without any logic!!

To begin with, it forces you to always be on your toes, and make a genuine attempt not to commit mistakes. More like a false positive ... you are careful not to commit a mistake, or let someone get a chance to call out your name when there is no mistake. In a way, your life is always on a kaizen mode, continuous improvement becoming the mantra.

Yes, it has its negative consequences as well ... you tend to become too cautious, almost risk averse, some times self-critical, some times even unnecessarily critical of others because that is what you have also seen from a close quarter. But, when you compare this with some of the qualities you imbibe when there is no criticism of your behavior from any direction, Mr. Das' suggestion suddenly starts making much more sense and becomes good to follow.

Is it better to be surrounded by yes-men? Or this critic is good ... he at least makes you become a better human being. Otherwise, you simply cannot tolerate criticism. All you know is the good things about you. You can never be wrong. Everyone else is a fool, because as compared to you, everyone does things differently, and hence wrong. And whoever criticizes you becomes your biggest enemy. In short, you are the best ... a miniature version of Aham Brahmasmi!!

A few days back, I read a letter from a famous media person, writing to his daughter on her eighteenth birthday. He was advising her that there is no need to look at oneself through the eyes of others and that one should become one's best critic. While this will encourage her to live life on her own terms, what it fails to consider is that one's own view can be highly restricted in evaluating one's behavior. What you are encouraging is not a confident human being, but a self-centered, over-confident megalomaniac. She will always expect to be loved the way she likes, and be appreciated the way she prefers. All other ways and means of being loved and appreciated will be a hogwash. Don't we have so many of these nincompoops around us?

Well, if we truly follow this advise in financial matters, the very concept of statutory audit goes for a toss!! Or for that matter, so many of us would like to follow this principle in our performance appraisals, right?

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