Since wasting time is not my thing, I want to start by saying that criticism seems to have lost its potency. There are a handful of reasons for that. What was originally intended as a talisman has -like everything else- been abused. It’s now deployed as a political tool -to gain advantage, to hurt, to steal, to destroy, to kill.
Plus, having become too accessible, too available, too easy a bullet to fire, criticism has made too many people immune to it. Suddenly, it is no longer an abomination for wives and husbands to exchange this philippic publicly. Alarmingly, fools now criticise the wise. Ditto, the guilty against the innocent.
Criticism, hitherto a technical tool, has become child’s play. It has become too casual. It has become an all-comers’ affair. Those who know nothing and are doing nothing distract those who know something and are doing something -all in the name of criticism.
Even those who shouldn’t, play the game. Ministers of God -believed to be the last bastion of integrity- jump onboard the bandwagon every day. What’s worse, when we worry, they laugh it off.
What about leaders? Please, don’t go there. That bunch has let us down so bad, we are now shopping for a less euphemistic, more befitting new name for them. Dealers?
Let’s throw the net much wider. Welcome on board the other untouchables: teachers, medical practitioners, media professionals, parents, women, mothers and others. Which members of these prestigious elite groups don’t selfishly apply criticism? Please, name one this moment or hereafter forever keep shut.
Alas, despite the guiltiness of the upper echelon (apologies, Billionaire Prince White) everyone continues to hypocritically scapegoat our young people. That is not wholly undeserving though, as these youngsters’ trademark tirades are -more often than not- laced with asinine insults. One need only surf the social media to see how young people drag ministers of God, leaders, and sundry respectable adults all over the place. However, before you call out these juvenile critics, pray: how and from where did the insulting generation imbibe this trait?
Surely, not from the skies. They got this horrendous mannerism from us. Parents, teachers, leaders, etc., must come to the realisation that how we have always deployed criticism is inimical. It is not the way to go.
People under us heed our criticism, if they know that we mean well and also if we praise them whenever they put a foot right. That’s a critical missing link that most critics tend to ignore. Parents, leaders, followers, critics believe rather erroneously that the nastier the criticism the deeper it sinks. Fortunately, it is not so and, unfortunately, it will never be so.
The foregoing speaks to the power of praise. Disclaimer: praise here has nothing to do with God. Forgive that seemingly frivolous deviation. In this over-religious country, one must never allow any room for conjecture.
Seriously speaking, time has come for Nigerians to leave God out of our self-inflicted internecine mess. We may mouth the Creator all we can but if we continue with our chronic insanity, the shame that we have faced since 1914 shall persist. Going forward, we should rid criticism of all politicisation, of all ethnic colorations, of all hate, of all pretence and of all allied corruptions. We must criticise only in love, and in truth and in patriotism.
At this juncture, let us share some profound lessons gleaned from the Nigerian, nay global, experience to prove that most criticisms are not pro-society. The best or loudest critic might not possess the solution. The critic who voices sweet nothings and promises heaven on earth might not perform one-tenth well, given the opportunity. With most critics only pandering to the masses, the aim of most criticisms is to make the critic look or feel good while setting up the target to feel or look bad.
So, citizens should be extra careful not to abandon good in search of better as they may end up with worse. Secondly, hateful criticism can push a leader into adopting the strategy of silence. In a democracy, an over-criticised public officer serving a last term could simply ignore the populace and wait out his tenure. In that case, has criticism not failed yet again?
In winding down this entry, a few points beg to be stated or restated. One, this call is not anti-criticism. Rather, having seen how sorry criticism has fared, we should get smarter with it. For instance, by adopting the carrot and stick approach. You cannot criticise a person all the time, a person in whom you have never seen anything good but expect such a one to swallow your recommendation(s) hook, line and sinker.
Two, human beings in positions of authority must develop a healthy attitude (not necessarily thick skin) towards criticism. It is counterproductive to always put a spin on it or think that implementing criticism smacks of weakness. There’s nothing or something you do or not do that will escape criticism. In addition, try never to dignify some criticisms with a sledgehammer attention and try never to forget that the enemy-like critic today could tomorrow become your Man Friday.
Furthermore, no matter how vitriolic or annoying the criticism might be, leaders should sometimes put themselves in the shoes of the critic to understand how hard it must have been for the messenger to speak up. Such mindset forces attention to the message instead of the easy route of being on the defensive or offensive. Some malicious criticisms come from the place of anger or frustration, not hate. President Muhammadu Buhari versus First Lady Aisha or versus his erstwhile staunch supporters are perfect examples.
Three, we don’t need to criticise everyone or everything, nor every time. We must learn to, occasionally, look away or give people the benefit of the doubt. I refer here to first time or natural errors or leaders who are open to superior arguments. Even your lover shall display some form of tigritude once you criticise them for political reasons!
Four, in the Third World especially, if you want your suggestion to gain traction, as much as you can, praise publicly, criticise privately. Don’t take to a town hall meeting or the airwaves to advise a leader you can access. Critics who do so watch their beautiful ideas stored away to gather dust. Stop choosing ego over public good.
And, five, even if that’s the only thing you do, stop making people you criticise look or feel brainless or inferior. Otherwise, your idea, though the best since ice cream, shall remain just that -a mere idea. Critics must eschew the pyrrhic desire to win the war of bragging rights or society would keep losing the battle of development. Recalibrate your criticisms to show yourself a friend not a foe; a contributor, not a master.
Finally, society is where it has been stuck for ages because mankind prefers exclusion to inclusion. Solution is in enhancing inclusion: being more loving, listening more, talking gently. The new mantra is: less ego, less hate and more understanding, more love. God bless Nigeria!
Education: Nigerians playing ostrich?