Thursday 29 June 2023

In the quest for that sliver of constructive criticism that mattered

The hostile oven of criticism

“Oò serious, Akin”. Is a code switch of mixing languages that you might find among people who speak more than one language, and in this case, this is a Yoruba-English construct roughly meaning, “You’re not serious, Akin.” I however found out that the Dutch who are usually polyglots find the mixing of languages confusing.

The many variants of this phrase, I have heard as the lead-in to criticism and excoriation, an unchallengeable viewpoint posited by those with responsibility, means, opportunity, and the power arrogated to deliver the cutting without the growing.

Along with this, is another in Yoruba, “Kí lón e ẹ́?” “What is the matter with you?” Delivered with sneering, disdain, and derision, maybe just disappointment, but implicitly implying you are not trying hard enough with all the advantages, privileges, and benefits you might have in relation to others, not accounting for any extenuating circumstances that anyone is willing to discover.

Humiliation as character building

In one seminal case, when I was addressed with the first statement, I dared to respond that I thought I was doing my best. It was taken as disrespectful and an affront, and at that point, another uncle stepped in to deliver a stinging slap, before commanding I grovel and apologise. Then, it was necessary to compound the humiliation by being ordered to do house chores, which we had someone employed to do.

Somehow, in many cases, there was an absence of constructive criticism in elements of my upbringing, though, that is not to say that I was not a difficult child and adolescent, I had my issues, and I could argue that they were not considered important in the scheme of things.

Bygones that cannot be foregone

Why dredge up these historical events when as the patriarch is wont to say, let bygones be bygones? It is because the bygones were defining even if the instigators would like to forget what they did and the impact of the same. There is a child in us that never forgets, despite all the work we do in self-development to ensure that the hold of the past does not become a limiting factor in our present or immediate future.

We all bear scars that we apply the makeup of presentation, expression, and personality to conceal to varying degrees of success, it is gratifying that there were still people who believed in us and supported us from under the crushing weight of unrelenting criticism and much else.

Where a child lives

It reminds me of something I read that is attributed to Dorothy Law Nolte who articulated quite succinctly the power of positive youth development. It appears on many posters that I read, and I tried to convince myself that much of what I experienced was positive and a good deal was, but it is never that easy to forget the criticism, the ridicule, the insecurity, the threats, the unfriendliness, and all that feeding a debilitating fear than was deemed respectful.

One moment of searing endearment and concern was delivered when they both ganged up on me in the administration of corporal punishment. He was taking a breather, probably in exhaustion, he said to her, “Mind his eyes.” That is love, I remember it well.

I love them, but they are not saints.

Some contextual references

Blog - Thought Picnic: A dreamy page of a family saga (2016)

Blog - Never maltreat a child (2023)

Blog - Thought Picnic: A child has memories that last a lifetime (2021)

Blog - The damage done when parents fail to listen (2015)

Children Learn What They Live

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to be shy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn to be patient.
If children live with praise, they learn to appreciate.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and others.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

© 1955 Dorothy Law Nolte – Children Learn What They Live

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