Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Self-criticism


Somerset Maugham narrates an anecdote in the Foreword to his majestic novel, Of Human Bondage.  Celebrated French novelist, Marcel Proust, wanted a periodical to publish an article on one of his great novels.  The novelist wrote the article himself thinking that none would be a better critic of his than himself. Then he asked a young friend of his, a man of letters, to put his name to it and take it to the editor.  The editor called the young writer after a few days.  “I must refuse your article,” said the editor.  “Marcel Proust would never forgive me if I printed a criticism of his work that was so perfunctory and so unsympathetic.”

Authors are touchy about their productions, says Maugham, and inclined to resent unfavourable criticism.  But they are seldom self-satisfied.  “Their aim is perfection and they are wretchedly aware that they have not attained it.” 

Not only authors, but any person or institution should be ready to accept criticism from others as well as be a good self-critic.  I once had a Principal who used to proclaim from the stage (which he loved more than was good for him or the institution) that those who criticised were “people without character.”  Needless to say, he could never take the institution to any remarkable height.  Rather the opposite happened.

Self-righteousness is the biggest stumbling block on the path of progress, whether it be of an individual or an institution.  I have noticed that religion often makes people highly self-righteous.  Try criticising a religion and see if you don’t believe me.  Religion is quite akin to an anthill inside which the ants live in secure comfort.  Criticism is like a prod which drives holes into that security and comfort.  But what kind of an existence is it inside the anthill?

Anthills
These are some of the reflections that struck me as I walked along this morning through certain untrodden paths in my rain-drenched village.  The thoughts became heavier as I recollected with mixed feelings that my holiday in Kerala was going to end in a couple of days.

And below is another picture I clicked a few metres away from the anthills.  Reality has a bright side too :)
These fruits are still to mature.  They belong to the citrus family: sweet as well as acidic.



14 comments:

  1. Very true...unless you learn to take criticism in stride, you can never learn and grow further. I know I would like somebody to bash up my writings but at the same time, it wouldn't stop me from feeling bad - but that feeling would be about my inadequacies as a writer and not for the critic.

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    1. Very mature response, Pankti. Thanks for adding it.

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  2. I am still to learn to accept criticism with a smile. I am sure though, I will be there one day. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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    1. Bhavya, I think it depends much on one's age. I could never accept criticism until a decade back or so. Now as a "grown up" person I find it fun. I was quite sad that my Principal who was much more "grown up" than me could never accept criticism. :)

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  3. Your walk seemed to stir some deep thoughts
    The images on the other hand is nostalgic !

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    1. Thinking is my other hobby, Uma.

      Life is fun when we learn to think, I think.

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  4. I agree to all of the things stated but the most to the author one... its true we hate criticism and yet never quite agree our own work is perfect. A special paradox :)

    Richa

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    1. Richa, I think artists in general tend to be a little sensitive about themselves. Writers are writers because they are over-sensitive. Hence this problem of wanting criticism yet not liking it.

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  5. Ants may take exception to their abodes being compared to religion of humans. The former nourishes life. The latter? Better left unsaid.

    RE

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    1. The comparison was between the kind of existence suffered by the two - ants and the religious people. I'm sure you will understand what I mean. I can't explain more.

      Our thoughts are conditioned by what happens to us... This morning meditation was conditioned by a phone call I received the previous evening.

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  6. Very nice post.

    One should be true to one's own self. Its another matter whether he or she accepts his or her faults publicly.

    I also remember Maugham commenting in his autobiographical work that he was quite aware of the fact that there would be a set of people who might not speak favourably of him or his work. He accepted with grace and equanimity that it was not possible to secure everyone's favourable opinion about one's own self. There would bound to be people who might not like you or certain things about you. Only a great man can admit or accept such bold and blatant realities of life.

    Regards

    Geetashree

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    1. Indeed it's only great people who can admit their shortcomings and failures with ease and grace. And it takes quite some time to acquire that greatness!

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  7. a healthy criticism definately should be taken up in good spirit. But many a times, people criticise you out of their selfish motives (Jealousy, conceit etc). It is certainly wise to be able to judge between a healthy criticism and the one which only aims to pull u down (for no reasons) and be able to achieve perfection in life.

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    1. True, people's motives are different while they engage in criticism. I was referring to genuine criticism which seeks to set things right especially in institutions. Even the heads of institutions should indulge in self-criticism and also accept criticism from others if they want the institution to grow. But the case with individuals is not different.

      Thanks for sharing your view.

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