Tag Archives: criticism

7 Quick Takes on Books, Computers, and Criticism

7 Quick Takes, hosted at This Ain't the Lyceum

— 1 —

Just a few weeks ago, I posted about finishing my 2017 Goodreads Challenge in October. Well, I’ve set a new record now:

I finished my 2018 challenge by reading 23 books!

I’m already done for 2018, and the year is only half over! Although I’m tempted to set my goal higher now, I think I’ll just call it a win and keep going. I’m aiming for a lifelong reading marathon, not a sprint.

— 2 —

I was saddened to read this NPR article about the rise in AI grading for standardized writing tests. The system can be gamed, of course, but it goes deeper than that.

On the one hand, I’ve been a human grader. It stinks. When I taught in Birmingham, I had to read hand-written standardized essays once. It was just me, a bunch of other English teachers, and a bunch of terrible handwriting. I’m pretty good at reading bad writing (both bad penmanship and poor skills, unfortunately), but one sample was so sloppy that I struggled mightily. I remember reaching the end of a sentence and realizing that I’d decoded all the words but had no idea what the sentence meant. I’m glad that was the closest I’ve come to experiencing any part of what it’s like to have a learning disability. I was working much too slowly for the volume of work set before us. So I get that human-grading of essays isn’t sustainable.

On the other hand, standardized writing doesn’t allow for much nuance anyway. I also understand the complaints of real graders who claim that computers can’t judge strong voice and elegant turns of phrase… but standardized scoring doesn’t give you very much credit for those things, anyway.

Overall, I’m just not ready to trust computers with interpreting writing. They’re phenomenal at transcribing speech, but those are just groups of sounds that need to be coded into letters. Dictation software still struggles with punctuation! Google might have an AI that can make me a hair appointment, but I’m not going to let it write my blog posts—or tell me how good they are.

— 3 —

Speaking of spooky computers, I came across this beautiful short film last year. It sent a chill down my spine.

— 4 —

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about criticism. The term “constructive criticism” has never sat well with me. After all, if there is a kind you can call “constructive,” then the default must be destructive, right? And it is. Putting “destructive” right next to “criticism” is a double whammy. I was never able to unpack my unease about so-called “constructive criticism” until today.

My first resource was the Gottman Institute. It’s been my best source for secular relationship advice for years. They identify criticism as one of the Four Horsemen of the relationship apocalypse. As one of the Gottman bloggers explains, criticism attacks a person’s character rather than actions and puts all the blame on the other. Instead of saying “you did a bad thing,” criticism says “you are a bad person.” The solution is to make a complaint about the way an action or statement makes you feel, as well as expressing what you need that’s different from what you’re getting. Those things are all about you, not about the other person.

So I was settled about what makes criticism feel so destructive sometimes (or a lot of the time), but something was missing. I didn’t see how criticism could ever be “constructive.”

— 5 —

I was listening to podcasts while doing my hair this morning, and I think I finally found the missing link to reconciling my dislike for “constructive criticism” with its alleged goal. It’s not just the feeling of destruction; it’s the total lack of construction.

Erik Fisher of Beyond the To-Do List (the podcast I’ve followed the longest) interviewed Jon Kolko about creativity and critique. Jon reiterated the Gottman principle that criticism can only be good when it focuses on someone’s work or actions instead of their character, but he also pointed out that, when giving a critique, you should offer advice for construction. That’s it! Don’t just tell someone what’s wrong with their work; tell them how to improve it. Then your criticism is constructive.

I think I get it now. And it works with work as well as in relationships.

— 6 —

For Independence Day, I went to visit a family I’ve befriended and a bunch of their friends. It was a little strange to walk into a house full of strangers, but how else will they become friends? We played some trivia games, the garlic butter green beans I’d brought seemed to be well received, and I got to watch some neighborhood fireworks.

Louisville is the first city I’ve lived in where fireworks are legal. We viewers stayed way back, I was only afraid for my hair a little bit (long hair and fire do not mix), and I was only a little distracted by the sight of continuing fireworks lighting up the night as I drove home.

— 7 —

The garlic butter green beans recipe I used was one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever followed. It was more complicated than just tossing some frozen cut green beans in the microwave, but they also tasted better. I might remember this one the next time I’m cooking for other people and want an easy side dish that’s as homemade and tasty as the entree.


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7 Quick Takes on Criticism, Feedback, and the Rosary

7 Quick Takes, hosted at This Ain't the Lyceum

— 1 —

I caused a bit of a kerfuffle in the comments section after last week’s take on constructive criticism. I’ve been reading advice from Gottman Certified Therapists for several months now (maybe even years), so I’m very familiar with the lingo. As with basically all areas of my life, words were very important to the point I was trying to make there. I was working with the Gottman definition of criticism, which is very specific and applies to the thoughts I shared. If you define it differently, then yes, I might have sounded like a crazy person.

The Gottmans are known for their Love Lab, wherein they videotaped couples after asking them to recall a recent disagreement. Through analyzing these conversations, they identified four major behaviors that were far more prevalent in couples that eventually divorced than in couples that stayed together. He calls them the four horsemen of the apocalypse: criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness.

So when I hear “criticism,” I hear “horseman of the relationship apocalypse.” That’s why I think constructive criticism ruins relationships, at home and in the world.

— 2 —

Some of the comment-section discussion on whether constructive criticism can ever be okay turned more towards “feedback.” I think of feedback as being positive, negative, or even neutral, but some people have the same aversion to that word as I do to “criticism.” Smart, Pretty, and Awkward recently included a link to an article about asking for advice instead of feedback. As a culture, we know that advice is meant to be helpful. If someone gives you unhelpful advice (or advice you don’t want to take), you just ignore it. That’s a strategy I can get behind.

— 3 —

I go grocery shopping every Saturday, and today this happened:

— 4 —

I also watch Jeopardy! almost every day, and this week, this happened:

— 5 —

I use Windows 10, and after the most recent major update (it’s called the “Creators Update”), I kept seeing an all-black window flash across the screen at random times. It was too fast for me to see, and I thought it was a fluke the first time, but it got annoying very quickly. So, once I caught enough of a glimpse during the split-second to have a phrase to Google, I found some help over at Ghacks to stop the pop-up. And now it’s gone.

— 6 —

I think I’m a terrible Catholic because I stopped liking the rosary. I used to pray it on my agonizingly long commute home every day, but after a few weeks here in Louisville sans commute, it started feeling like a chore. I know, I know! I couldn’t not pray, though, so I switched to the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and all is well once again. Except when I forget that the Hail Mary is followed by the Apostles Creed and not a Glory Be, but that’s easily resolved.

— 7 —

I got some positive work-related news this week, but nothing I’m ready to blog about. It’s nice to finally have some.


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7 Quick Takes on Tacos, “Constructive Criticism,” and Life Alignment

7 Quick Takes, hosted at This Ain't the Lyceum

— 1 —

Mr. Man and I met some friends of his for dinner last week at Migo. It was tasty. I always struggle with eating tacos because the filling falls out so easily. It makes me want more tortilla. But I’m not eating the taco because I wanted a tortilla; I’m eating it for the stuff in the middle. It feels silly to have to eat some of the filling off the shell with a fork, but that feels less silly than just making a huge mess while the good stuff falls onto my plate. Maybe that’s why I enjoy quesadillas, enchiladas, and pico de gallo more than tacos, tostadas, or salsa: my favorites stay put.

And you thought there was nothing to say about tacos besides “yum.”

— 2 —

Against all odds, Mr. Man and I won trivia again last week! Two first place finishes in a row (adding on to the week before) is unreal. The same friends we went to Migo with came to round out our team. It helps a lot that the “name that tune”-style round is one of my specialties, and he fills in a lot of the science things I don’t know. We’re both humanities nerds, but our nerdery appears to be complementary instead of overlapping, so that’s good.

— 3 —

Kyle Benson at the Gottman Institute blog shared a post recently about how to fruitfully respond to criticism in relationships. The institute focuses on married couples, but this advice totally applies to work relationships, too:

Despite what some people say, there is no such thing as constructive criticism. Criticism triggers a person to become defensive and protect themselves from an attack, which blocks the resolution of a conflict.

Yes, yes, yes! Think about it: no one ever asks to receive “constructive criticism.” It is almost always the criticizer who asks-but-isn’t-really-asking to criticize someone. If Mr. Coworker says, “Can I give you some constructive criticism?” and I say “no,” suddenly I’m in the wrong. It shouldn’t be that way.

The Gottmans rightly call criticism one of the “four horsemen” of the relationship apocalypse. It destroys people’s confidence and makes them respond aggressively and negatively. The asker, in turn, was aggressive and negative. Criticism is never constructive; it’s always destructive.

— 4 —

I had the honor of attending a local wedding last weekend as Mr. Man’s guest. He doesn’t dress up as much as I do for church, but he will for weddings. It was among the smaller weddings I have attended, so there wasn’t quite as much dancing as I usually experience. I realized, though, that I have spent so many weddings of friends entirely on the dance floor mainly to assuage my sadness at being so very single for so very long. It’s hard to feel like you’re alone when you’re busting moves surrounded by your friends. It was a very different experience to be there with mostly people I didn’t know but also with a date.

— 5 —

I participated in the Asian Efficiency Focus Challenge this week. I’m not sure I was the ideal audience, but I appreciated the experience all the same. The key exercise was evaluating my life for alignment. The process is simple: Make a list of the five things that are most important to you. Then make a list of the top five things you spend your time on. Are those lists the same? If not, what can you do to make them match?

— 6 —

I happen to have known this bishop when he was Vicar General of Austin, but it’s solid episcopal advice regardless:

— 7 —

The Pentecost novena starts today! I like to pray the version hosted by EWTN. Your mileage may vary.


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