Buried in the back of my closet is my old Baby Book. Tucked in its pages are a lock of hair, immunization records and my first grade report card. Under the comment section, my first grade teacher penned these words, “Does not take criticism well.” Nearly twenty years of schooling, numerous report cards and working with several magazine editors has not changed that immortal statement. Faced with criticism, I still get a pit in my stomach, I wake up at 4:00 a.m. to stew and I declare to the universe that I will spend the remainder of my days working in my garden-far away from critical eyes. However, buried in my graduate school experience has been an important lesson. Criticism can also be the greatest gift one can receive. It has caused me to stretch. It has opened my mind to sail in previously uncharted waters and it has taught me to plant my feet firmly and take a stand.
I recently received a paper with an extremely low score. Next to each paragraph the teacher had written, “Beautiful writing, you did not answer the question.” The stomach acid began to pump and my defenses went into motion. I wanted to write back, “Well you did not ask a very good question did you!” Moving quickly through the course, I soon had another opportunity to answer a new set of questions. This second time, I took no chances. I read the questions. I understood the questions. I searched for answers. I formulated answers. I sought with all diligence to present my answers in a clear and concise manner. I stretched myself…and I learned something new.
While studying Shakespeare, I went into unknown waters. How one gets to graduate school with no experience with the Bard says something about my public education and narrow college experience. But it happened. I learned to “start at the very beginning” and thanked God for Cliff Notes and BBC broadcasts. In sophomoric fashion, I muddled through several of Shakespeare’s great plays. I addressed what I thought were profound thoughts on patriotism while studying Henry V, only to receive a stinging rebuke from the professor. He said, “I had not addressed the negative side of patriotism and the religious zeal to which it can be taken in the extreme. Really?? I said myself-I had no idea what he was talking about. I had no idea until the next semester when I took the class “The Age of Revolutions.” Over and over, in revolutionary figures, I encountered Henry V and his speech to the troops before the Battle of Argincourt. Over and over I wanted the opportunity to “rewrite” my Henry V paper.
In an exchange of emails with a fellow student in my Middle Eastern History class, it was once again confirmed, “doesn’t handle criticism well.” I would have “defriended” him had we been using FaceBook instead of ISpartan. Late into the night, I was unsettled by his pressing questions as we discussed Islamic fundamentalism, Palestinian/Israeli relationships and the King James Version of the Bible. Who was this stranger in cyberspace that dared to question what I knew as “the truth?” (And why did I search him out three years later to thank him?) Speaking of “”defriending,” what about my fellow students in Global Economics? They hurt my feelings with their Keynesian philosophies. Criticism of Hayek was criticism of me. It still is, but at least now I know how the other side views the world and I know how to defend myself.
Finally, the process of writing my final reflective essay has almost cured me of my “critical condition.” First I sent my final draft to a professor friend, his reply, “Beautiful,” fed my ego but was not very helpful. It took an advisor, who truly cared, to say, “lacks intellectual empathy.” Ouch! After many middle of the night ponderings, a lot of emails, and several rewrites to finish the process, I found myself saying what I really wanted to say. She forced me to clarify thoughts that I needed to express. She caused me to dig deep inside and ask myself, do I value courage above empathy, criticism over kindness, progress over tradition, freedom over security and writing over gardening? Thank you Deborah, I will always be grateful for your critiques and your encouragement!
I will soon receive a transcript from UNCG. I think I will write a comment on the bottom. “Still doesn’t take criticism well—but oh, how I appreciate it!”