It’s high time that we learned to disagree agreeably.
Polite debate, in this current political climate, seems to be a lost, or, at least, under-used art. No matter what one’s political views, a responsible citizen should know how to express those views without resorting to insults, personal attacks, or even rickrolling. It’s perfectly reasonable to disagree with a blog post, speech, or comment, but there are correct ways to give criticism – and then there are incorrect ways.
So, what are the differences between constructive and destructive criticism? Let’s take a look at the way two different blog commenters choose to act, when faced with the statement: “All giraffes are evil criminals.”
Constructive Connie addresses the issue: “I don’t agree with your idea that all giraffes are evil criminals. I’ve met many fine giraffes.”
Destructive Delores insults the original poster: “Your [sic] the criminal!”
Connie states facts to prove her point: “In fact, I have a reputable study here showing that some 87% of giraffes volunteer in their community, and 98% give to charity.”
Delores deliberately churns up emotions to sway opinion: “my mother’s roommate was KILLED by a giraffe and my co-worker’s cousin was ATTACKED by giraffes who had just ROBBED A LIQUER [sic] STORE and I know that if you love giraffes than [sic] YOU HATE AMERICA!!!!”
Connie only posts criticisms after she’s sure that her pointing out an error, or even just stating her opinion, will add something worthwhile to the discussion.
Delores is posting because she wants to “call them out.”
Constructive Connie will criticize something she feels is wrong, no matter who says it.
Destructive Delores will let her friend Annoying Amy say all sorts of off-topic things, but if Polly Poster says anything that isn’t exactly germane to the discussion, she will call her out – and also a few nasty names.
Connie really doesn’t like the fact that Polly Poster thinks all giraffes are evil, but she’s willing to agree to disagree, and even keep discussing the point, agreeably.
Delores hates anyone who disagrees with her.
Connie does her best to be polite, but always keeps it real.
Delores is sarcastic and snide, and doesn’t care if what she says offends people.
Constructive Connie tries to give other commenters the benefit of the doubt; maybe Polly just hasn’t met the right giraffe yet.
Destructive Delores assumes the worst motives from everyone – she knows that Connie is only sticking up for giraffes to insult her.
Connie accepts that things are often more complex than they seem at first: “well, I guess that some giraffes can get involved in street crime.”
It’s all or nothing for Delores: “ALL giraffes are evil – every. Single. One.”
Connie tries to find common ground: “well, I know we can agree that elephants are very nice.”
Delores can only focus on differences. “Why would I want to agree with some stupid giraffe-lover?!?” she proclaims.
Connie sees this difference of opinion as an opportunity to broaden her understanding, and asks questions to clarify: “tell me more about the problem of giraffe crime, as you see it.”
Delores views any difference as an argument, and only asks rhetorical questions: “How could you dare to support giraffes like this? Are you crazy?”
And, finally, Connie just wants to come to an agreement, or, failing that, at least learn more about others’ viewpoints on giraffes: “Well, Polly, I certainly respect your passion for the subject. Can you recommend any good websites where I might learn more about giraffe crime?”
Delores, however, just wants to win the argument, and if she can’t win, then she’ll leave with one last, insulting, Parthian shot: “you’re all horrible. You’re worse than a bunch of giraffes.”
What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about constructive criticism (or giraffes) that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!