Criticism vs Affirmation

While presenting is a simple and remarkably useful skill, it is also an act that most people seem to find daunting at the best of times. Fair enough. Putting yourself out there, to describe personal thoughts or reflections makes you stand out from the apathetic crowd. To extend out to the world something that feels like a part of yourself with the hope that they will accept it, and you, comes with the fear that the opposite will happen. If the reader, listener, viewer or critic of your work takes what you have poured yourself into and sunders it against whatever rocks they can find, it hurts deeply. It is a dull pain, but lasting. If it is received with appreciation from others it can spurn you on, to do greater things, but a line can be crossed where the pain reinforces the fear and undermines an individual’s self-confidence.

Maybe without realising it, we do this on social media. A single post seems like such a small thing but if someone criticizes something of yours, that is as small as an Instagram post, you can still feel the hurt, as though you were presenting in a public forum. I find it interesting that online, the criticism hurts just as much, but any praise just seems to fade. It feels empty because it’s just online. It’s easy to write a short positive comment. A like is just a button pressed on a phone screen.

So why do we react to negative comments with the same weight as though they were said in person?

In a way this is why excessive positive reinforcement online is so prevalent in the generations who grew up online. I don’t think it is ever as good as the reinforcement from a friend in person.

The structure of my architectural course in university is ordered around regular critiques of each students work. These ‘crits’ happen at least once each week. Each student pins up all the work they have done to this point and in front of everyone presents what they have spent the last few days working intensely on. The expectation from our tutors is that there is major change from the last crit and significant improvement. When we have crits on Fridays with a full week in between them this is fair(ish) but there have been many weeks where we have crits on a Wednesday and again that Friday leaving one day to generate this work. In these cases the tutors do not lower their expectation for volume and quality of work.

Now that we are in second year, we are aware that the tutors are almost never satisfied with the work you have poured yourself into. As an example: out of all my crits last year, I came out of them happy with myself only three times. Over 10% of my course have left since we started, either failing or dropping out. Without a doubt, these constant presentations build up confidence in good ideas and develop resilience but it is very easy and common for the students to leave after crits feeling hurt. As a class we have begun to understand that face to face affirmation from peers is the best antidote to the rejection of your ideas. This has built up a stronger community in our studio.

We need more positive affirmation.

I mean this across our society, not just as architectural students. To put yourself out there and receive no response induces an apathy and discourages further creativity. We have a responsibility to respond personally. Always.

In the youth group I am now a leader in, we take one or two nights each year to tell people exactly what we think of them (in a positive light), why we like them, what we see in them or just affirm them however seems appropriate. This is done by the youth and for the youth in a large circle where one person stands up and for one or two minutes all the people in the youth group affirm them. Each time, the youth hear themselves described it builds them up and I remember from being the teen standing in the centre myself, even the simplest thing can make an impact. I learned over and over how people saw me and it was often in terms that I couldn’t see myself.

To put yourself out there like this, risks yourself being sundered against whatever rocks critics can find. But when that doesn’t happen and instead a friend says honestly to you, what you mean to them, it builds you up in a way that’s not easily replicated.

2 Responses to “Criticism vs Affirmation”

  1. Marie

    As ever Zeph a beautifully wriiten blog with an even more beautiful message. Well done you

  2. Karl

    Love this Zeph, and agree totally about the need for positive affirmation. Well done.

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