Criticism & Critical Thinking

12 July 2021 last edit: 9 June 2022


When we think of the word 'criticism', it's usually the negative type that comes to mind. When someone says, "Stop critizing me!", for example, it usually refers to negative criticism. This doesn't appear to be a recent connotation either, as the online etymology dictionary says, for the word 'critic': "the English word always has had overtones of 'censurer, faultfinder, one who judges severely'".

Even so, I propose there is value in finding fault in other people? For example, if a friend or family member do something we don't agree with, should we intervene with criticism? I feel like it's largely dependent on the situation and circumstances. If I don't understand the situation fully, or the circumstances, I would hold back my criticism until I got a better understanding of the situation. A lot of negative criticisms come from a place of misunderstanding.

The positive type of criticism is aimed at helping another person improve themselves. It's grounded in reality, targets something that somebody has the ability to change about themselves, and it's given in good faith.

Sometimes, even positive criticisms in good faith are not received well. Sometimes this is because the criticisms are misinterpreted or misunderstood, or maybe the criticizer doesn't know about the person they're criticizing.

There are some spaces, online and in real life, where even good criticism isn't socially acceptable. For example, in families, a child criticizing a parent is seen as disrespectful and "talking back". At work, an employee would be very hesitant to criticize their boss in case it puts their job at risk.

Like anything else, it's possible to over-critical or under-critical. Overcriticism leads to being "nitpicky" while undercriticism leads to nothing changing - which is fine I suppose, if nothing needs to change (but usually, it does).

Criticism is simply an extension of honesty and our acknowledgement that other people (especially those we spend lots of time around) impact our lives and we impact theirs. It's as simple as thinking of it this way: if you don't voice your concern or discomfort about something while around other people, they won't know it's bothering you. Then, it usually comes down to open communication.

It's also important to remember that one's social environment is what influences their thinking.

Also I must emphasize that criticism is a two-way street, and requires a dialogue, an honest exchange of ideas looking to come to a common conclusion.

It's important not to become defensive at criticism, and that means taking all criticism as good faith until you have reason to believe otherwise.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking is the analysis of facts to form a judgment. It is the rational, skeptical, unbiased analysis or evaluation of factual evidence.

It is the ability to think about the way we interpret information to recognize our perspective's strengths and weaknesses and, if needed, re-evaluate our conclusions.

To improve our critical thinking skills, we can question commonly accepted truths and remain open to changing our perspective as our understanding and knowledge develops. We can be aware of how information has been framed, and how that might change our understanding. We can think from and seek out other perspectives, especially those who disagree with and think differently than us.

We shouldn't assume that our perspective is the correct, right, or only way to see something - we must study all sides of an issue, the arguments for and against, and gather as much information and evidence as we can to make an intelligent and informed analysis on the whole. We can fight confirmation bias by seeking out counterarguments and disconfirming evidence against our beliefs, instead of only looking for arguments and evidence to reinforce our beliefs.

Also note that a different perspective doesn't necessarily mean taking a different 'side' on an issue. A perspective is how you view the situation, and how you view a situation is directly influenced by how much you know about it, your past experiences, and your social environment. To have the fullest perspective we should take all of that into account.

It is important to (again) strike a careful balance: we can be too critical, but we can also be not critical enough. Those of us who are too critical focus only on the downside may be perceived as too negative or skeptical. It can alienate us from others, who we have more in common with than we think. Those of us who are uncritical are regarded as naïve and superficial.

Without the practice of proper analysis and critical thought, we are prone to being deceived and tricked.

On Propaganda Work

Combat Liberalism by Mao Tse-tung

Arguments: A Guide to Critical Thinking