Does criticism = opposition?

critic.JPGBy Ney Reed

Sunday, 10 December, 2006

criticism (noun) – serious examination and judgment of something; disapproval expressed by pointing out faults or shortcomings.

critic(noun) – anyone who expresses a reasoned judgment of something; a person who offers a value judgement or an interpretation.

critique(noun) – a serious appraisal; a serious review.

opposition(noun) – resistance; the action of opposing something that you disapprove or disagree with;confrontation where the act of hostile groups opposing each other; a body of people united in opposing something; a contestant that you are matched against;

After writing two pieces of articles on my blog a year ago, i realized then that i am no longer living in north america but singapore where it is a common and prevalent phenomenon to see people equating criticism to opposition. Hence i wrote a blog piece subsequently ( here ) to explain that i am merely criticising and not opposing and that there is a distinct world of a difference between the two which the average singaporean from the politician to the average joe tend to miss. After writing two articles for online citizen, again i had the same vibes and here i am writing again to evaluate if and when criticism amounts to opposition.

Professor Seyyed Naquib Al-Attas, a scholar based in Malaysia, reknowned in the West for his contribution to Islamic Philosophy, once profoundly summarized one of the greatest dilemmas of mankind during a seminar in singapore by saying that “one cannot build an understanding in something in which he has uncertainties… he has to remove those uncertainties and thereafter only will he be able to build an understanding”. Indeed that understanding becomes the foundation upon which a value, thought, conclusion,system,organization,policy, intervention or initiative is constructed or implemented or pursued. Therefore when one has uncertainties in something, he/she will not be able to adequately/comprehensively understand it such that whatever he/she embark on using that inconsistent understanding, it is bound to produce less than optimal outcomes.

The definitions of criticism, critic and critique

Today in Singapore each one of us have built our own systems and universes where we have zero tolerance for criticism and instead equate it to opposition. Least do we sincerely ask ourselves whether criticism equates and amounts to opposition and if so, is it in exceptional cases or general cases.

The definitions of criticism, critic and critique above, which can be found in any of your english dictionaries, clearly indicate no resemblance in meaning to the definition of opposition. When one criticise or critique something or be a critic of something, he is in no way oppossing it. When one is opposing something, he/she can either criticise it or not but in most cases, it is the former. You may perhaps deduce criticism from opposition but never the other way round. It will be foolish, ignorant and naive to do that.

Let me illustrate with a few examples. The biggest, loudest and worst criticisms one can expect to hear about English league football clubs are not from their opponents but their own fans. The criticisms from these fans are not in any way criticisms but passionate disapprovals. The fans still splurge mindlessly on these clubs despite their criticisms and they never oppose them.

The worst critics of us in our lives are our parents, wives, husbands, teachers etc. In no way can we reasonably equate their criticisms to opposition. It is the very fact that they take our interests and well-being too seriously that they are charitable with their criticisms. What do we call a teenager who retaliates against his parents because they criticise him? Immature, spoilt, foolish. However that is precisely how we are living our lives here in Singapore happily equating every criticism to opposition.

In these two examples we see how criticisms can arise out of fondness, love, liking and that has no relation to an attitude of opposition or resistance.

Being human

One of the definition given above for criticism is that it is an act of disapproval. When do we disapprove? When we do not agree. Because each one of us have our individual mind, it is practically and realistically impossible to expect any two person to agree on everything or anything. They may or they may not. Hence criticisms in other cases can arise out of the very nature of us humans having born with an individual mind. We also disapprove because we may dislike it. There we see criticisms arising in some instances simply because of our very human nature of being born with emotions. Unless we remove the mind and emotions in us, we cannot stop criticisms. Furthermore disapproval does not equate to opposition. One can disapprove and yet not resist. There are so many things in our daily lives that we disapprove and we do not resist them.

Man, as we all know, is imperfect. But what we fail to realize is that because of this we need to understand that whatever man constructs or does is subject to imperfections. Therefore when one sees an imperfection or what seems to him/her as an imperfection, he/she will only naturally criticise. But doing that does not translate to opposing or resisting it which is something totally different. Furthermore it is only healthy for every man made construct to be subject to criticisms or else you can never reduce its imperfections. As long as its imperfections are not reduced, it will be unstable and likely to fail or self-destruct.

Criticisms are like feedback

Criticisms also do not lead necessarily to opposition. Criticisms are like feedback. When criticisms are accepted within a system, those criticisms will die out subsequently and only a fresh set of criticisms will arise.For instance should criticisms be as a result of assymetric information then information will be consistently exchanged and misunderstandings or inconsistent understandings will be clarrified. In other cases a compromise may be reached or there may be a reversal or a new solution implemented.

Opposition or resistance only arises from criticisms when criticisms are rejected and not tolerated or when criticisms are expected to be rejected and not tolerated. The human mind and emotions primarily propels the will within onself to oppose or resist. Hence the human mind and emotions cannot be held down forcibly by being intolerant to criticisms which really is a mere expression of the human mind and emotions.

As mentioned earlier no man made system can be stable or grow without a constant and continued effort to reduce the inherent and ever present imperfections. However this can only happen through tolerance for criticisms. What can perhaps can additionally be pursued is to educate how to express a criticism with a sense of discipline in the mind, soul and body because the receiving end of the criticism also has a mind and emotions such that his/her sensitivities must not be injured.

Every successful civilization thrived only through its continous strive to reduce its inherent imperfections and every successful society/civilization that fell was due to it being oblivious to its imperfections. The imporant avenue and mechanism to identify and rectify imperfections within a system is definitely through criticisms. The divine tests us with our weakness and never with our strengths and if we shut our eyes to weakness, that is when we really fall and break.


About the author

Ney Reed, aged 29, a Singaporean, economist by training, considers himself a conceptual analyst, had been an active participant in public-interests & social-interests dialogue groups, anti-globalization movements and Palestinian human rights lobby in North America during his five years’ stay there.

Visit Ney’s blog here.