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A Small Word

By Dr Jyotsna Bhattacharjee

It is such a small word, but so difficult to say it. Though the word is small it is big with meaning and it may lead to happiness and mutual understanding between several persons. I wonder if you have realized as to how difficult it is to say, "I am sorry, I have made a mistake". Most people never admit to being in the wrong about anything, because very few persons think that they might have been wrong in their opinion. Human beings are finite beings, and no human being is perfect. Hence it is only natural that we make mistakes. But we like to think that we are always right and over-estimate ourselves.
Some people may know that they have made a mistake, but they do not want to admit it. They seem to think that confession of making a mistake is the admission of weakness and cowardice. But I think that actually it needs great courage and a very strong character to admit that he or she is in the wrong. Weak person can never do so, since they do not possess enough courage to make a confession of being in the wrong.
I suppose most of us have this tiresome trait. Only a few lucky persons are free of this characteristic. I think the best way to deal with this small but trying flaw is with humour. We must have sufficient patience and enough sense of humour to deal with the feeling of righteousness and superiority complex of an adamant person, who always thinks himself to be right. Argument will merely lead to unpleasantness. Hence we have to accept his or her foibles with amusement.
It would be nice to think that we could reform that person, who thinks that he is never wrong, by producing some undeniable evidence to show that he or she is not right. But this course of action usually leads to harsh words and sulks. And any attempt to point out that some one's insistence on his or her own superior judgment on every occasion is due to insecurity and lack of self-confidence will almost always fall on infertile ground. It can easily be understood. Those people who have an inflated ego, and who think themselves to be absolutely right, cannot accept anybody's opinion. So it is impossible to correct an arrogant and self-righteous person.
A friend of mine, whose husband is a charming person, but who does tend to adopt rather a lofty attitude most of the time, has developed a marvellous method of avoiding full-blown arguments. He believes that he never makes mistakes. The paper he mislaid was entrusted to his wife's care, the faults of the children were due to his wife's neglect, the shirt he bought did not look nice and of course she should have prevented him from buying it, since his mind was engaged elsewhere. In this way he went on putting blame after blame on her gullible head. Whenever anything goes wrong, it is somehow always her fault. When the couple were first married, she used to stand her ground and argue back, but found that it always led to an "atmosphere". So now she takes a different line. She graciously accepts any mistake as her doing. She always tells her husband, "You are quite right-how silly of me".
Only those who know them well can detect the secret smile on her face as she speaks and the look of slight discomfiture on his. When I asked her why she always takes this line, she said, "Well, for a start it does not cost me anything. It prevents those trivial arguments too. And I must say that he tends to do it much less these days than what he did months back".
It can be seen that those same people who won't admit to being in the wrong also find it hard to take criticism. They do not realise that refusing to accept criticism may be their loss.
Very few of us can take criticism with equanimity-whether at home or at work. The more successful people get more criticisms. Usually people become mortified when they face rough criticism. But it is no use getting "hot under the collar", feeling that you have been abused or wrongly judged, or worse still, that the critics are envious and are "out to get you" I believe that we should learn to accept criticism placidly. If somebody criticizes us, we should try to cool down, listen to what he has to say, and think about it. You may well find some truth in it, which will help you to correct some faults, and make an even bigger success in consequence.
There are two kinds of criticism-constructive and destructive. A destructive critic is always motivated by some unworthy impulse. But if you allow your hackles to rise every time you hear a word of condemnation, you may miss out on what a constructive critic has to say, and that would be a pity, since to listen to constructive criticism may be very rewarding. A friend of mine, who happens to be a writer, told me that her husband is her best critic, because she knows that whatever he says is beneficial to her, since he always has her best interest in his heart. But another friend told me that she simply could not take any criticism and now realizes very well that if she could do that, perhaps it would have done her world of good. She told me that now she understands the truth of what that great writer Somerset Maugham wrote, "People ask you for criticism, but they want only praise".
So I think that we should learn to take criticism in its proper perspective. If a teacher point out the faults in your child don't take umbrage and dismiss it without a second thought. Take note if the boss calls you to task over something you have or have not done. I think you should not reject it out of hand, but should look at the situation from his point of view. If people tell you that they are right and you are wrong, I think you should listen to their arguments first, because then you will be in a stronger position to maintain the rightness of your own. We are more likely to get our opinion across, if we don't try to bludgeon our way through, but can refute reason with stronger reason.
I think that the real problem is that we think of ourselves to be perfect. We are always right, only others make mistakes. We forget that wise statement that "to err is human". Hence we are quick to criticize others, but cannot take criticism from others. I too belong to this inconsiderate and self-righteous section. I have faced many criticisms, mostly at home, throughout my life. Even though I knew these criticisms to be justified, I never could take them calmly and it often led to some very unpleasant situation. I think that very few persons can take criticism calmly.
I will tell you about a small incident which occurred some days back. A lady came to my place a couple of weeks back. She seemed to be very much annoyed and disturbed. Usually she is a very good-tempered and cheerful lady. I asked her if anything had happened to annoy her. She breathed deeply and said in a gruff voice that she was distressed because her best friend had made disparaging remarks about her latest hairstyle. Apparently the friend had told her that she looked funny and that the new hair style did not suit her. The lady told me furiously, "with all those cosmetics on her face she looked like a painted doll. But did I say anything? Of course not. I hope I am not so ill-mannered", she said piously.
Then she turned to me and asked me, "What do you think about my newest hairstyle? Tell me frankly. I want your honest opinion. I always appreciate truth and honesty. I hate lies and hypocrisy. A spade is a spade for me. Tell me the truth and give me your honest opinion and no sugar-coating for me-thank you".
I hesitated for a few moments. Her latest hair style looked like a bird's nest and she really looked weird. Fool that I was, I gave her my honest opinion. The lady turned away and went away without a word. I should have remembered Somerset Mangham's statement that when people ask you for criticism, they actually want praise. The truth-loving lady, who asked for my honest opinion, also perhaps belongs to the same category. I should have realized that nobody welcomes criticism, though they may say that they want to know the truth. That is why possibly our ancient scholars stated that, "Satyam api apriyam na bruyat" (unpleasant facts should not be stated even though they are true). I think we should follow the advice of these great scholars.
But though people cannot take criticism calmly, we have to admit that constructive criticism is very beneficial and we should heed them without prejudice. We must not block our ears to criticism, rather we should listen to it. We should not despise it. It will be better to make use of it. There might be something in it, which can help us to reach a wiser and more justified conclusion. Criticisms are necessary to make us better human beings. They should not be despised, rather they should be accepted gratefully. We should perhaps distinguish between constructive and destructive criticism and then we may be able to find out the motive of the destructive critic. It may be due to malice. But even that kind of destructive criticism may do us some good, if we consider it minutely. But the constructive criticism is very advantageous to us and we should correct ourselves accordingly. That would be a wonderful gain for us.