Damn if you do, damn if you don’t

By Henrylito D. Tacio




Harold Nicholson was a budding English politician.  At the start of his career, he went to old Stanley Baldwin for advice.  The political veteran said something like to him, “You are going to be a statesman and try to handle the affairs of this country.  Well, I have had a long experience of such a life, and will give you three rules you had better follow.”


The first rule:  “If you subscribe to a press-cutting agency, cancel your subscription at once.”  The second rule: “Never laugh at your opponent’s mistakes.”  The final rule: “Get used to hearing people attribute bad motives to what you are doing.”


You can be as good as Jesus Christ and yet have people criticized anything you do.  No matter what Jesus did, someone was against it.  As one sage puts it, you’re damned if you do something; and you’re damned if you don’t.  We are living in a world where we cannot please everyone – no matter what.


When I was in high school, I scribbled this quotation in my notebook: “What people say about us is never quite true; but it is never quite false, either; they always miss the bull’s-eye, but they rarely fail to hit the target.”  


Sydney Harris, the man who penned the above statement, was referring to criticism.  On his 90th birthday, American president Herbert Hoover said, “Criticism is no doubt good for the soul but we must beware that it does not upset our confidence in ourselves.”


If you are not big enough to stand criticism, you are too small to be praised.  After all, little boys throw stones only at trees which bear fruits.  If you have a fruit-bearing mango near a school, expect passing by students to throw stones at those luscious fruits. 


This happened during the Civil War.  One day, Jefferson Davis wanted a reliable officer for an important command.  He called General Lee and asked what he thought of a certain man named Whiting for the post.  Lee commended him highly.


One of the latter’s officers was much surprised at General Lee’s recommendation.  Calling General Lee aside, he asked him if he knew what derogatory remarks Whiting had been saying about him.   Lee answered, “I understand that the President wanted to know my opinion of Whiting, not Whiting’s opinion of me.”


O.A. Battista said, “One of the surest marks of good character is a man’s ability to accept personal criticism without malice to the one who gives it.”


People who criticize other people are called critics.  Richard Le Gallienne defines that person as: “A man created to praise greater men than himself, but he is never able to find them.” Channing Pollock has a deft description: “A critic is a legless man who teaches running.”  Kenneth Tynan has another view: “A critic is a man who knows the way but can’t drive the car.”


Henry L. Jordan was coaching his son in tennis.  He tossed up the ball, swung his racket and his first serve landed right in the net.  “You’re hitting into the net,” the father told his son.


The son shifted his stance, took a different grip on the racket handle, and tried again.  The same result happened.  “It’s going into the net,” the father shouted.


The son glared at his father and made another try.  “Still going into the net,” the father said.


Hearing those words, the son flung his racket to the ground.  “Look” he told his father.  “I can see that it’s going into the net as well as you can.  You don’t need to sound like a broken record about it.  Tell me what to do to keep it from going into the net.”


The same is true with criticism.  You don’t have to criticize a person of not doing things the right way.  Why don’t you talk with him and tell him what was wrong and how he can do it correctly?  “Criticism,” said George William Curtis, “is not construction, it is observation.”


“We need criticism,” Philippine national hero Dr. Jose Rizal once said, “to keep up us awake.”  To which Somerset Maugham contends, “People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise.”


In our daily task, we tend to criticize others because it’s 100 times easier to do so than to create.  “It is much easier to be critical than to be correct,” Benjamin Disraeli surmises.  “Lots of faults we think we see in others are simply the ones we expect to find there because we have them,” Frank A. Clark contends.


How true were the words of Robert A. Allen: “The truth is that for everything that can be accomplished by showing a person where he’s wrong, ten times as much can be accomplished by showing him where he’s right.  The reason we don’t do it so often is that it’s more fun to throw a rock through a window than to put in a pane of glass.”


Why do we hate criticism?   One statement sent to me by a friend has this answer: “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved with criticism.”


In other words, all of us hunger for a word of praise that someone finding fault in us.  Sydney Harris points this out: “Why is it that the good things people say about us never give us as much permanent pleasure as the bad things they say about us give us enduring pain; and that the glow of praise quickly dims and must be continually replenished, while the barbs of dispraise rankle for an unconscionably long time?”


Haim G. Ginott replies: “Direct praise of personality, like direct sunlight, is uncomfortable and blinding.  It is embarrassing for a person to be told that he is wonderful, angelic, generous, and humble.  He feels called upon to deny at least part of the praise.  Publicly he cannot stand up and say, ‘Thank you, I accept your words that I am wonderful.’ Privately, too, he must reject such praise.  He cannot honestly say to himself, ‘I am wonderful.  I am good and strong and generous and humble.'”


Praise that is undeserved is poison in disguise.  Remember that! — ***


For comments, write me at henrytacio@yahoo.com


One response to “Damn if you do, damn if you don’t

  1. nice article.

    feel free to email me if you want to submit articles or do guest blog posting on http://joserizal.biz



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