How to Criticize Constructively - Reflections of a Young Man™

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How to Criticize Constructively

A couple of years ago, I was browsing through the magazines in one of the shelves of Kenya National Library in Upperhill (Nairobi) when I came across an Issue magazine that discussed extensively about self-esteem. I really enjoyed leafing through that inspiring magazine. Unfortunately, I have never seen it again in my subsequent visits to the library but I am glad I made some notes about what I learnt on self-esteem. Let me dwell on criticism today.

Criticism is to some extent virtuous because it helps us identify our weaknesses. But quite often, it is spoken out so harshly that it diminishes our self-esteem. How?

Well, all too frequently when we notice a problem in somebody, we don't say anything initially, which is when we should address the problem. Instead, we bottle it up till we explode. We yell, "You are bloody lazy!" Or, "You really piss me off!" Or, "You make me sick!"

Those kind of phrases sound very angry and accusatory. They also show that we are not in control. And after uttering them, we generally feel worse about ourselves which causes our self-esteem to plummet. See?

From the Issue magazine I have told you about, I learnt a better way of criticising someone, especially a spouse, a work-mate or a family member. It is called the 'criticism sandwich'. Basically, that means looking out for the best in the person we want to criticize and then placing our criticism in between those admirable qualities. Like you might criticize me as follows using the 'criticism sandwich' method:
"Thuita, you are an exceptionally intelligent guy and I am proud to be your friend. I like your ideals and your writing style. But I think you'd even be a better person if you realized it's not proper to share such information as this. I know it's most unlike you to get things wrong; you're so dependable and I want you to know how much I value you."
Notice more use of the word "I" than "you" in the criticism above. It shows you are in control and that you have thought about what you're saying. Try criticizing the important people in your life that way.


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The Sad Story of Kairu

I love reading stories, both fictional and non-fictional, provided they are entertaining, enlightening or inspiring. In fact, once I am through with reading a book about South Africa, my next read will be A 4th Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul®, an anthology of stories that open the heart and rekindle the spirit as its editors put it.

And because I love reading stories, let me share with you an entertaining story about Kairu which I read in my high school days at Starehe Boys' Centre. It goes as follows:
"Kairu stood at the door of the shop, a long baton in his hand. The baggy uniform, apparently too heavy for the hot weather, made him look shorter than he actually was. The boots he wore did not fit. They were too large, and one got the impression that they wore the man, not the other way round. They looked a burden in every sense. However, of everything he wore, it was the helmet which looked most comical. It was one size bigger than the head; it hang on the head loosely, almost covering his eyes. As he stood in the blazing sun, peering at the world from under the rim of the helmet, one got the impression that he was a comedian playing the part of a bored guard.

But Kairu was not dabbling in comedy; guarding Tamara Clothing Store was his work. He came to this door every morning and left when it closed in the evening. It was all very boring, standing there all day long, watching customers as they came and left. Often his legs felt weak. At such times, he felt like throwing his baton away and sleeping right there on the floor.

He had stayed on the farm a few months after the examination results. Those were months of inner confusion, pain and discouragement.

And he had surveyed the rolling ridges and noticed their beauty but he did not belong there. These same ridges had sapped his father of every bit of energy, leaving him frail and shaking.

Kairu did not want to suffer the same fate. His father's words had haunted him for a long time. Maybe new horizons would afford a better life for him. He had set off for Nairobi, his mind heavy with thoughts.

After walking many miles on the hot tarmac, he had been accepted for training by Paka Guards. The training had been hard and Kairu always shuddered whenever he thought of it. The recruits had been beaten, starved and abused. Sometimes they had been required to spend a whole night without sleep. In the mock fights against robbers, the trainers had injured some of them.

All these however were nothing compared to the Kivumbi Hill. This small hill, standing on the training grounds, had been covered with murram. Sometimes, the recruits would be forced to run up and down its slopes at midday. The murram would be extremely hot and the soles of their feet would be left swollen. What was worse punishment was to climb the hill on one's knees at midday. It was torture beyond words. Kairu had withstood it all with the courage that comes from living in a world where so many things are threatening to break one's spirit. He knew all along that if he lost the opportunity, there were many people waiting at the gate to replace him. He would not be missed.

Now it was all over, but Kairu could not shake off the terror of those two months spent in the training camp. It had left him weak and scared. He had always loved arguments but in the camp, he had learnt to obey. It was here too, that he had realized how needs can force one to put up with what one does not like. Whenever he stood on murram, he remembered Kivumbi Hill and his legs shook.

Kairu could not help reflecting on his life. He had imagined that with a better education and salary, he would improve the living standards of his family. But he had not saved himself. Here, he stood, in the hot sun of Ngorongo Town summoning every effort to keep him on his feet. He knew that his puckered forehead, now sweating, gave the impression that he was older than he actually was. He did not like the job. The pay was low and the job insecure. One could be confronted by robbers any time. He often wondered what he would do if such a moment ever came. He was not certain he would not run away." [1]
What's your take on that sad story of Kairu? As for me, it has motivated me to work harder in honing my talents while praying for breakthroughs so that I may never end up being like Kairu. So help me God.

[1] I have extracted this story from page 73-74 of Integrated English Book 2, published in 1988 by Kenya Institute of Education (KIE).

If you've enjoyed reading this story, you might also enjoy another story I wrote about Simon Makonde and another one about arising and shining. Just click on those links in blue to jump straight into the stories.


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Personal Effectiveness

I have extracted this photo-quote from with permission from Nick Fewings, the website owner. Copyright © all rights reserved worldwide.

The great American president Abe Lincoln was once asked, "What would you do if you were given eight hours to cut a tree?" After thinking for a moment, Lincoln replied, "I would spend the first four hours sharpening the axe."

Of course Lincoln's point was that before embarking on a goal, it is important to plan and prepare. Because as the old adage goes, "Failing to plan is planning to fail."

On reflecting about that Lincoln's reply, I thought to myself, "Perhaps all our days would be happier and brighter if we spent some time developing our minds. How about sparing an hour everyday to sing, pray, read, write, meditate or listen to inspirational stuff? Maybe Robin Sharma was right when he quipped that starting the day off well is a powerful strategy for self-renewal and personal effectiveness."

Following that revelation, I have resolved to continue setting aside an hour or so everyday to develop my mind as well as vitalize and energize my spirit for a productive day ahead. So help me God.

If you've been enlightened by this short story of mine on personal effectiveness, you might also get enlightened by another story I wrote on personal excellence. Just click on that link in blue to jump straight into the story.


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