Criticism is your Friend – the role of criticism in teaching

The Overture from Pigdom Come

I gave some well-structured and well-intended professional advice recently in a place where people claim they are reaching for success in their music. The person had done some decent work but they had also done two things that while kinda ok today, would damage their chances of success down the track if they sent this to industry professionals. My response took this form:

  1. Noted the good work done
  2. Noted the loooong intro that was about their ego (branding) which reduced the chances of someone staying to hear the real work being presented.
  3. Noted that claiming that they scored this famous game was inaccurate seeing there is an official Composer already and gave the correct term “re-scored” to save issues later seeing Credit is the essence of Copyright (esp if using the cut-scene footage whilst making the wrong claims).
  4. Again complimented the work done.

I noticed that the poster ignored my comment, whilst thanking the person who gushingly told him how clever & talented he was. Not surprising and not a good sign for that person’s future.

This person has already shown that they are willing,
eager even seeing they stepped over the “discomfort”,
to offer assistance

Theme From Pigdom Come


Later in the day, I got sideways “advice” (instruction) about never saying anything not-positive to anyone. I responded that helping someone avoid the failures inevitable from such unprofessional practices was positive. And that twice I had said the work was good. I got repeated sideways pokes in the eye that one should never say anything not-happy, not-cheery, not-positive. Bla bla bla, the usual Socialist, let’s all equally be equal muppets equally singing kumbaya while Rome boins. Here, look at this lovely cake that Mr. Bull brought us for our desert…

There is this idea that to blossom, students need this “safe-space” in which they never hear anything but how amazing they and everything they think & do is. Somehow from this ubermensch will arrive. As though the only reason that people don’t achieve greatness is that they are being crushed by others who want to destroy or otherwise “gate keep” them from their self-evident birthright. I think we are all about ready for another slice of that lovely cake Mr. Bull left lying around.

Enter the Exterminator

Teaching has to be about acknowledging what is there. If the cake that Mr. Bull left is in fact his excrement – or bullshit to be clear – we do no good in not calling it for what it is. One of the great things that we can do, once we accept it is in fact not cake but manure, is using that stinky poo to help grow plants. Plants that can feed us – incl providing the ingredients to make a real cake.

Not being willing or able to face the facts means that firstly we are damaging ourselves as poo is not food for humans. We all have to face those moments in which we are able to recognize, adjust and improve ourselves. The idea that if we avoid all discomfort is horrifyingly flawed as we condemn people to a life of failure.


Who would I be if I could foresee the cliff someone was about to fall off but instead of saying anything useful & caring I did the “kind” thing and told them how well they were trucking? Definitely not a good person at all. The law could even want to have a chat with me about lack of due care, or even manslaughter if I knowingly let that person walk off a cliff. All to avoid any interim discomfort.

A teacher must be able to point out not only what is working but what is not working. Or will not work in the future. If a ballet teacher does not teach the dancers the right posture and esp how to do pointe properly not only are the dancers not going to get parts but they will be injured and out of dancing entirely. Possibly living a life of pain and limit.

The Throne of Agony

I know none of us want to receive anything that seems negative, we all want to be told we are perfect and amazeballs will fall from heaven. This is not how life works.

If you watch “Karate Kid” or “Star Wars” Miyagi and Yoda both give criticism. Both knock down their student. This is part of training. We see in “Karate Kid” how easily Daniel gets an inflated sense of himself (esp after eating the “cake” left by the false teacher).

Criticism is an integral and essential part of training, learning and growing. Anyone unwilling to accept that is not willing, or able, to learn. There are plenty of movies where the teacher walks away when the student is too arrogant to accept change. They are unreachable and will never amount to more than being a bully or bully’s henchman. A short-term win for sure but ultimately a fail in that sooner or later someone will take them out. Whether that is Ip Man or Darth Vader, is not relevant. Just inevitable.

Accepting criticism helps us to see what is working, what is not and if the criticism is delivered well, should show not only why the criticism exists but ways forward building upon what positives are already there. Notice how these elements play out in “Karate Kid” & “Star Wars”.

Private War

If given criticism, while it can indeed feel a bit like a stab in the heart, understand that genuine criticism comes with not only the opportunity to see what was not already seen but how to move forward.

You can react in fear and spite. Understandable, but the teacher will walk away – at least until you have calmed (and hopefully apologized for being silly and mean).

Better to react with thanks. If you are unclear on what the message is, ask. This person has already shown that they are willing, eager even seeing they stepped over the “discomfort”, to offer assistance. While they do not owe you the solution, they will probably help you at least part of the way to understanding not only the issue but how to move forward stronger & better.

In Buddhism, such a person is designated a bodhisattva – a person on the path to enlightenment (success) who is helping others. This is an awful lot like an Angel. Would you not want the help of an angel to see you stepping past your limits and troubles? Would you not feel so blessed that you put aside your wacking-stick with a rusty nail? The thing with angels is that we normally draw them with big wings so we can spot them (not always true as they can appear incognito). One of the great things with the bodhisattva concept is that this teacher can be anyone alongside us, no matter how flawed they may be otherwise. In that moment they are life reaching out to teach us how to live better. Our job is to take the help. Life wants us to take that help. Life wants us to be successful.

Foetus - Nail

The lovely subtitles in this article are courtesy of the charming Foetus “Nail” album. If they offend you, please write to Clint Ruin courtesy of Scraping Foetus of The Wheel at You’ve Got Foetus On Your Breath Hall in I’mfamousandyou’renotville (which I think is a suburb of Sydney, Austwegia).

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