Criticism vs. Critique vs. Critical Thinking
Dorothy Law Nolte wrote an adage that remains true, “If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn.” Before Ímagine grew up to become a young teacher-turned-detective and the heroine of The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple, she was just a kid living in Manhattan and did not know what that strange saying meant. Her parents had focused on growing her imagination and simply said that criticism was a city she need never visit or move to. That answer worked fine until she went to school and met bullies.
As the daughter of the Broadway star Lionel Longwind, little Ima watched his reaction whenever he got a bad review for a performance in a new play. Although she did not exactly grasp what a critic was, she saw how negative words from the newspaper temporarily deflated her PapaLi for a day or so. Always wanting to help, Ima would sympathize and remind him of his successes, all the while waiting to see his eyes light up again.
Lionel explained how artists, actors, musicians, and writers had easily-hurt feelings which made them sensitive to criticism and susceptible to discouragement. Ima thought that described everyone she knew in the world and figured “criticism” might be a contagious disease she needed to avoid.
“Don’t listen to that silly ole critic. He’ll make you sick. Who does he think he is anyway, judging you? Does he know how to sing or dance or act all at the same time? I bet he’s just jealous because he can’t even do half of those things.”
“Ima, there’s a difference between judging and evaluating. When you go to the green grocer, would you buy over-riped bananas?”
“No. Those should be thrown out unless MaMadge has promised to make them into banana-nut bread.”
“Well it’s the same with criticism. Some of it is plumb mean, undeserved and needs to be thrown out. But some of it is helpful.”
“If words upset you, how can that help Broadway’s favorite matinee idol.”
“Well, Ima, when criticism is fair, it’s not meant to hurt me but to build me up. It tells me what I did well and what needs improvement. I like to call that a critique because it keeps me striving to stay one of the top stage actors who gets the most auditions for the best parts. Now don’t think I want to steal roles from other actors, but I do hope to win most of the auditions over them.”
“You’d always be my first pick.”
“And you’d be mine, Ima.”
“PapaLi, do I have to be an actor? I really want to teach. ”
“Just be the best at whatever you choose and get ready for criticism because adults get lots of it.”
“Okay, I will write a history book about me and leave out the mean things others say.”
“Exactly. Heed a critic’s advice if it honestly fits what you did or didn’t do.”
“But what if the critic just wanted to slam down actors in a play?”
“Then I simply dig in my heels, ask my director for advice, and rehearse even harder to make my part unforgettable. That’s what I’m hired to do…please audiences…not critics. Long ago I decided that no one can knock me down unless I let him…no bully…no critic…no naysayer.”
“So you’re saying, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me’?”
“Absolutely. Turn lemons into lemonade. Look for the silver lining. Don’t let anyone rain on your parade. And most important for you remember is let the criticism roll off like water on a duck’s back.”
“You mean I should fill up on Pollyanna platitudes?”
“Maybe so, Ima. Old sayings can help when you can’t find a friend to lift your spirits. Still, I think the best way to survive criticism is not to listen to it if it’s mean or false and don’t be critical yourself. Remember, “it’s impossible to cherish something you criticize.”
“Is that like not gossiping or passing it along?”
“I hadn’t thought, but yes. Some things are best left unsaid, so it’s best to let them drop.”
“Won’t people think I’m blind or naive?”
“Ima, seeing things in a positive way does not mean you blithely wear rose-colored glasses; or else you might stumble and hurt yourself. Instead, go ahead…admit to yourself what you see…and step over that puddle.”
“PapaLi, you make it sound so easy. You always recover so quickly from mean words.”
“Perhaps I do because of my belief in an old western song that says “Where seldom is heard a discouraging word; and the skies are not cloudy all day. Everyday that sets my mood with the right outlook.”
“But I’m just a kid, and it’s hard to think nice thoughts when other kids say mean things to me or make fun when I get a good grade in class.”
“Well, Ima, you don’t have to bite off this whole idea right now. Try one suggestion at a time and critique what happens. You don’t have to do it perfectly today. Just change yourself one gulp at a time. ”
However, when it came to Ima recovering from criticism, she felt a failure from the outset because her classmates constantly teased her about having bright, carrot-colored hair. She hated what they said but didn’t know how to respond. If she reacted quickly, their teasing got louder. If she acted like their words insulted her and her face flushed red with anger, they laughed at her. If she showed that their stupid words had hurt her feelings and made her cry, the criticism contest was over. The bullies had won! Teachers told her to walk away with her head held high. That action would take the sting out of mean words and make the bullies lose their power over her. That task proved easier said than done.
At age 12, Ima found little consolation in the logic older people had. She still wanted to get even. So, she immersed herself in mystery stories from Nancy Drew to Sherlock Holmes to learn how to think like a crook. From that she hoped to plan revenge against her juvenile enemies. But strangely enough, these mysteries taught her something else: how to analyze a situation and solve the problem at hand.
Then life backfired. When Ima grew up, her orange hair was so distinctive it actually worked in her favor by helping others to remember her. Now in a mystery series of her own, she faces her own dilemmas, critiques the situation, and practices what the fictional detectives did: collect clues, reconstruct crimes, and flush out suspects. Although Ima has learned that she does not always succeed or do everything exactly right the first time, she does get better at investigating crimes with each new adventure.
Ima now enjoys helpful criticism, tries not to accept hurtful words, and refuses to let anyone destroy her dreams or “rain on her parade.” She knows no one has that right. Still, she is neither oblivious nor impervious to criticism but sifts through it for jealousy and mean intention. She does not give an inch when a bully beefs up his attacks because she successfulky ignores him. But most of all, Ima is grateful that her PapaLi took the time to fill her with good ideas and advice to use in life.
By moving slowly from criticism to critiquing to critical thinking, Ima has found a process that best fits a teacher-turned-detective. So, now she continues to practice gathering enough information and combining it with past experiences, current situations, and moral values to make good judgments for herself and her cases.
The first four books of The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple are available at Amazon &Barnes & Noble. You can also get them from Tate Publishing through picaresqueofimaginepurple.com
IMASDOE I – Last Passenger Train Across Newfoundland; IMASODE II: Scary Ferry to Nova Scotia; IMASODE IV: Mary Jane of Canton, Maine; IMASODE V: Mayhem in Manhattan. Coming in the fall, IMASODE V: Anti-Belle of Antebellum Atlanta.