If There Was No Criticism Or Praise, Who Would You Be?

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Wondering how you would answer this question…

It was asked by Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks International in his book, It’s Not About the Coffee

“If there was no criticism or praise, who would you be?”

I’m thinking on it myself. I’d very likely be more candid in some of what I write, post and speak about. But, I’d essentially keep being exactly who I am and doing what I do. That’s an interesting realization for me. But, I still need to contemplate the question a bit more.

How about you…

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31 responses

31 responses to “If There Was No Criticism Or Praise, Who Would You Be?”

  1. Mike Cassidy says:

    Would I be one of the human tubs in a floating scooter as portrayed in the movie Wall-E? Or would I be one of the elite, not requiring praise for sustenance nor the criticism to progress and develop? Also, I may not be able to grow without criticism which can fuel my development. Interesting question as always Johnathan — one I will ponder.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      It’s an interesting question about the potential positive role of “constructive criticism,” one I need to think on some more. Though I wonder if Behar’s question is more about fear of destructive criticism and the allure of external glory

  2. Carl Harvey says:

    Awesome – I know what you mean. I went to Steve Pavlina’s workshop where we did a lot of stuff like this and came away with much the same conclusion – basically, I’m being who I want to be, but need to be a little more candid.

    Tim Brownson helped with this as well, the being myself thing. Oh, your book weren’t bad either 😉 There’s lots of good resources to help get people on the path.

    Good though, a really powerful question to consider.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Gotta love our friend, Tim! So shy and demure in his commentary, lol!

  3. Great question, of which the outcome I desire (But don’t have) gives me a sense of liberation.

    This tells me (and I’m very candid about it in my blog) that I’m still finding that path of being 100% me & still attempting to suspend judgment. My struggle with still pushing the “publish” button on my posts tells me I’m concerned of judgment and blow back from the public. The other part of me is glad I have the balls to do it anyway.

    So I feel I’m still living in the middle however documenting it as I go so that I may inspire and support someone in their transformation. In that thought I find comfort as well as purpose.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      I’m guessing that sense of liberation comes from your belief that it will come. And, that sounds like a pretty good thing to me

  4. Lindsey says:

    It is a testament to how much work I need to do that my answer is … I don’t know. Maybe the same person. Maybe not. I think the same person but I’m not sure. I need criticism or praise to answer that question! External answers to internal questions! Welcome to the gerbil mill of my brain. Such a good, probing, simple way to ask the most important thing of all: what do YOU want? Right?

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      “I need criticism or praise to answer that question! External answers to internal questions!”

      That’s the rub! Makes you ask, “then who are you doing it for?” Questions from others can definitely help, changing the answers to avoid criticism or accumulate praise is a much dicier thang. 🙂

    • See, I’m in this boat a little bit, too. I know there’s a lot of things I want to say, so what do I want to be? For that matter, where do I want to be it?

      I’m at a personal crossroads where I’m reevaluating everything I’ve ever been told, everything I thought I loved and everything I’ve ever done. Seeking out those motivations, and their roots, has me wondering what’s next.

      I really believe I can do anything, the problem–if you can call it that–is I want to avoid just doing something.

      • Jonathan Fields says:

        “I really believe I can do anything, the problem–if you can call it that–is I want to avoid just doing something.”

        Wow, there is sooo much truth in that sentence. Love it! But, be careful, because sometimes “something” is the action that gets you moving forward rather than standing and wondering and gives you the momentum to correct course and ease your way into “THE” thing.

  5. Jeffrey Tang says:

    Love the question, Jonathan. Or hate it. I’m not sure yet, just as I’m not entirely sure what my answer would be.

    An interesting follow-up question: Does it matter? If we consider ourselves as inherently social beings, is it useful to even imagine a world without social feedback? Our conceptions of success, for example, largely revolve around the way our actions and accomplishment impact other people, and how those other people respond to us as a result.

    We talk a lot about being yourself and not allowing others to influence your decisions – but how realistic is that? And if it isn’t realistic, is a world without criticism or praise worth pursuing?

  6. We are who we are *because* of the criticism and praise that has shaped us over the years.

    Criticism and praise are like the little ancilliary muscles in our body that we never exercise but are essential to keep the larger, more obvious muscles functioning.

    Criticism and praise help to shape our values, guide us to our goals, give us the fire to do better and many other things (good and bad).

    I think an alternative question to ponder could be “How can we use criticism and praise to recognise and fulfil our purpose”

  7. Adrian Munday says:

    Jeffrey Tang is onto something in my view. If you like sociology then take a look at the 1960s book The Social Construction of Reality that talks about how reciprocal subjective experiences shape our view of reality. Ie how you view me affects how I view myself. This to me means who we are is not an objective truth but the sum of our conversations, as it is through conversations that we change our reality. Doesn’t prevent us having choices or control over our destinies but it does mean that if we want to live in society then living with the effects of feedback is key to our onward development. To the point of the question this for me is an ongoing process of balance. This is no less authentic than someone who unfiltered speaks their mind but for me is simply more open to the possibilities of other world views. Typing on an iPhone so hope this makes sense!

  8. I am a musician and I have to be honest and say that if there were no such thing as criticism or praise, I would not be nearly as skilled of a musician as I am today.

    Why is this? The truth is that more than a few times in the past, fear of criticism or ridicule, and the desire for praise and accolades, has driven me to practice harder. And I can tell you from my experiences in a university music school that I am not alone in this. So many musicians practice because they don’t want their teachers to think they’re bad, or because they want to be praised and lauded by their audience.

    Nowadays I understand that there are far better ways to be motivated to become a better musician. The love of the music. The love of the process. The desire for a deeper artistic understanding. These sorts of things. However, I have to say that at the times in my life when these healthier forms of motivation are missing — and from time to time, they indeed are — then criticism and praise come in as really handy secondary motivators. In this case I do believe that the ends (becoming a better ___) justify the means (desire for praise about my skills as a ___).

  9. When I was a kid, I sought the the approval of others in an unhealthy way. Now, after having spent many years working on my own self-development and actualization, I can say that I care much less about what others think about me.

    So, even if nobody offered me a word of praise, what I do still has a positive effect on their lives, which I can see for myself. By doing what I do, I am pleasing myself.

  10. Hmmm….

    I am not sure. I think I wouldn’t be where I am. In my mind, criticism and praise help me get through my life. I do not use them as validation, but sometimes it is good to know and receive external feedback about your life.

    Because of feedback I was able to see areas in which I needed to develop and work on and I also good better see the things that I was doing well.

    So that would be my answer: I would be a different person…how different? I don’t know.


  11. I crave the connection of knowing that I affect others, and that others affect me.

    A human being who truly doesn’t care what others think (to the ultimate degree) is a sociopath.

    It seems to be the attitude du jour to say “I’m totally independent and don’t care what others think.” Here’s my attitude du life: I love my connections with others, love their praise, appreciate their criticism, and ignore what doesn’t have value to me today (though I often store it up for later, when I’ll understand it better.)

    Relationships, life itself, is about interconnectedness. Don’t let it ruin you, but don’t run from it either.

    But, to actually take a shot at answering your question, if I had to simply choose what to do, no praise or criticism, I’d be a little more exuberant, love more people, and more deeply, sing embarrassingly in public places and not comb my hair.

    Welcome to Paradoxville.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Joel –

      I agree on the power of relationships, I think the challenge becomes when we either define ourselves through them or hang out entire happiness hat on the hooks of praise and critical avoidance. Because, when you look to an entirely external source for happiness, when that source is taken away…

      • Oh, absolutely. I’ve suffered a lot because of my need for approval; stifled a lot of good impulses.

        My concern is just as much for when the pendulum swings the other way.

        Like nearly everything, it’s all about balance.

  12. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jonathan Fields, Jonathan Fields, remarkablogger, SarahRobinson, Alli Worthington and others. Alli Worthington said: RT @jonathanfields: If There Was No Criticism Or Praise, Who Would You Be? – http://is.gd/81ezU (Always good to do a gut-check!) […]

  13. Charlotte says:

    Actually… no one and nothing. Probably mad. 🙂

    Because criticism and praise help people navigate the world. Yes, they can be negative things when people live or die by them, and spend all their time looking for validation and avoiding criticism. No doubt about it. But a world without feedback would be essentially a sensory deprivation chamber.

    I think that a better way to phrase it would be “What if you were less scared to be yourself?”

    The answer to that latter question is “A more intense version of what I am now.” 🙂

  14. Lin says:

    For me, criticism, praise, ridicule etc shapes who we are and who we become – to a point. Like Michael said above, I care less and less what others think of me or what I do. There will always be people who will be in your fan club giving praise and perhaps even constructive criticism when needed.

    There will also always be people who will do everything in their power to tear you down and destroy you, if you let them. I do what I do anyway, and those that appreciate my efforts online or offline give praise and encouragement without ever asking for it. The naysayers are shrugged off, and I do what I do anyway.

    I don’t have any problem being candid on my blogs, online in the blogosphere or in my personal life. I am who I am and I make no apologies for who I am or what I do. I am not a people pleaser to the point where fear of what others think of me holds me back from being me.

    • Lin says:

      Theodore Roosevelt puts it this way:

      “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face in marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

  15. This question just about blew my mind. I never looked at the criticism/praise as defining me, but now that you mention it….I think it might be an “easy” way to figure out your strengths & weaknesses, but not necessarily your loves & passions. I might have gotten an A in algebra & been put into advanced math, but crunching numbers might put me to sleep. So, I think getting criticism/praise can give you a shove to pursue what you love – or back off of what you don’t, or try harder to have the passion meet the praise – but isn’t the definition of who you are.

    I should not think this much so close to bedtime.

  16. Queenie says:

    Finally am headed way up high in the food chain instead of down below with the bottom feeders (LOL) where I stayed a little too long. In my career, I have allowed the criticism of people to negatively affect me waaaaay too much and it has cost me many an opportunity and even made me fear success to a degree. A lot of “criticism” comes from a very ugly part of human nature, one that tries tirelessly to keep “all of us in the barrel” and is afraid to see that one little crab that can climb out of it. I became sick and tired of allowing the opinions of other people from preventing to getting where I have worked so hard and deserve to be. They can criticize all they want. Nothing is stopping me. Praise however, is always welcome but no longer matters all that much to me. If I can look in the mirror and feel proud of who I am and what I am doing, that is praise enough for me.

  17. yael says:

    Wow. It is really tough to say. I suppose my writing is driven a bit by criticism/praise–not that I purposely change it to gain praise, but that I search for people that will appreciate it. I suppose if I was just in it for money I could take my feelings out of the equation… but money is probably a form of criticism/praise… so perhaps being myself and trying to find a space where I am valued/accepted/etc. got me where I am… hmmm… still thinking. good food for thought. thanks.

  18. JC Hewitt says:

    Ideally, criticism and praise should only be directed at actions and not people.

    To clarify, if a child rides a bike well, praise the specific actions that led to that occasion. If, for example, the child becomes off-balance on the bike, criticize the action (leaning to one side) that caused that effect.

    This is what makes for effective coaching. It’s impossible to achieve peak performance without maintaining a reality-based outlook that separates actions and achievements from the innate personality.

    If you consider yourself “bad” if you make a mistake, you’ll end up the emotional equivalent of Lehman Brothers: over-leveraged and over-committed to avoiding mistakes.

    The healthy personality requires no praise or criticism to maintain self-esteem.

    I’m not there, and neither are most of us, though the principles underlying it are useful to know.

    • Howdy, JC! Nice to see you here.

      “The healthy personality requires no praise or criticism to maintain self-esteem.”

      I disagree vehemently. I could accept the claim that the *perfect* personality requires no *criticism*, but to function without praise is inhuman; it eliminates the ability to say “I love you unconditionally” because love is praise of the highest caliber.

      Sure, praise and criticise actions; I get that. But to aspire to functioning without either is to dream of being a machine, devoid of the human spark.

      • JC Hewitt says:

        Hey there, Joel, nice to see you here likewise.

        Thanks for challenging my statement.

        No, it’s not ideal to function without praise or criticism. I use both frequently, and it would be hypocritical for me to make that claim.

        The key words in my statement are “personality” and “requires.” The personality itself is of innate value, regardless of how others perceive it.

        I, as a human being, have the same value whether I am adored or despised by any number of people.

        Does that make sense?

        When I say “I love you” to someone, to me, it communicates an internal, involuntary emotional reaction to the qualities that someone expresses through their actions.

        At least, that’s where I’d like to be.

        If a person can be considered honest, it should be because, they are much more likely to communicate using true statements than false.

        John Gottman, in his research on marriage, discovered that couples that used negative character attribution statements were many times more likely to divorce than those that avoided using such statements. You might be familiar with his work from Gladwell’s “Blink.”

        I have an adamant desire for qualified praise of my work, but I have learned to survive without it. Similarly, I have learned not to have a nervous breakdown (or react defensively) when my work receives criticism.

        It’s challenging to separate the self from the work itself, particularly if you’ve been trained in an environment that never makes that distinction.

        Am I making more sense now, Joel?

        • Excellent clarification. I think we agree completely, or purty dang close.

          And I hope somewhere along the line folks are catching the fact that Jonathan’s post is about helping us look forward, which, I guess, is also intrinsic to your comment, JC.

  19. […] “If there was no criticism or praise, who would you be?” -Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks International (via Jonathan Fields) […]