Critical Love

“Honey, do I look fat in these pants?”

There are probably a few thousand wrong ways to answer such a question including, “No Dear.”

My mother used to tell me that I could do anything if I put my mind to it. When I told my dad that I wanted to study molecular science, perhaps around 5th or 6th grade, he said, ‘I don’t know. You can get it, but sometimes it takes you awhile.” Both were right. I was 56 years old when I finally finished my PhD dissertation.

Yesterday, I was observing a future teacher in a practicum placement bravely conducting a Biology lab in a small room with thirty four students. Today, I will observe a student teacher in a Spanish class. It is my job to be critical.

Reminder: This blog series is dedicated to love, the various kinds of love beyond the romantic and erotic that support personal growth and healing, especially the healing of invisible wounds from Combat PTSD.

I live with a critic. She read and critiqued this blog before I posted it. It is hard for her because she was not taught critical love. I was.

Is it safe to criticize in your world? Can we really learn to be critical with love?

One reason I do not enjoy a military retirement pension, today, is that when I was a Wisconsin Army National Guard Captain, I told the Colonel exactly what I thought of his training methods. Combat Veterans are often not loving critics. We are also hypersensitive to criticism, ourselves.

“Do you look fat in those pants? Not as fat as you look out of them.” Okay, this may not be helpful critique.

Pardon the segue, but I used to show and judge dairy cattle. We, in Ideal Holstein 4-H Club, were not allowed to say this cow had a better udder than that one. We had to say what was better about it—perhaps tighter, more symmetrical, with fuller mammary veins.

Similarly, when I participate in critique of friends’ writing in Write on the Edge, it is not appropriate to say what is better or not as good. I need to suggest what seems missing, what may be misleading, or what stopped me in the story. Better yet, I look for examples of completeness, clarity, and movement.

I cannot improve my writing without critique, and I cannot improve my teaching without evaluation and feedback. Sometimes it sings, and sometimes it stings.

Symptoms of Combat Post Traumatic Stress often include severe criticism, perhaps because all situations appear like problems and all problems feel life-threatening. It is not personal. It is a response to feelings of desperate vulnerability.

Symptoms also include unhealthy susceptibility to angry responses to criticism. Any criticism, even a situation that invites critique such as student teaching, defending a dissertation, or publishing a blog, increases a Combat Veteran’s vulnerability. This may trigger the fight/flight physiological reaction of extreme discomfort we call a Dinosaur Dump or Wild Ride.

So what? We can help the Combat Veterans and everybody else with honest criticism tempered with love. We can give reasons for our critique rather than simply passing judgment. We can provide examples and alternatives, and we can include positive critique.

“I like those gray dress pants better, Dear. They highlight your athletic curves.”

Yeah, go with that one.

One response to “Critical Love

  1. It’s a wise man that knows how to answer that question, Honey do I look fat in these pants?” But the importance of critique no matter what we are critiquing that is important. As a writer I know I want those who read my early work to do all those things: tell me what’s missing, what seems misleading, what stopped me in the story. It is not enough to say something is good or bad or show me where I need a comma I need to have my readers get at the heart of the words and help me.

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