Go on a flight of imagination with me? Lovely, thanks.
The scenario: I go to Eleven Madison Park restaurant in midtown, NYC. Having a palate only accustomed to Italian fare, hearty American, or fried Southern dishes with occasional forays into sushi land I venture into the wild unknown of 'Poularde en Vessie,' a French technique in which chicken is steamed in a ballooned pig bladder. Around the 6th course I try grilled jowl garnished with trimmings of watermelon radish and petite onion flowers. Of course all these courses set me back a grand total of $295.
Now, I see no problems with somebody less than a gourmand spending Franklin's on an evening out, and even if they don't fully appreciate the finer dining may still appreciate the fine experience. But say I was one of those incomprehensible people who take to the internet Yelping loudly, in dicey English, about my steamed chicken inside a bladder, when that was exactly what I ordered. I might warn everyone within yelling distance of how terrible this restaurant was and how it was a total waste of money.
You might tell me, "that's ridiculous." You're right, but it happens all the time because most folks don't stop to get the facts or think about the context. If you have an unrefined palate from shoveling in Bojangles every day, than consider that you might not be qualified to critique Chef Daniel Humm's tasting menu. Now, if the review or critique told how the chicken was under or overcooked, even if review is still scathing, there might be something worth considering. It wasn't just someone's opinion anymore. If I was the chef of such a restaurant, and not the superimposed Bojangles-eating critic, such criteria would make all the difference in whether I accepted or rejected the review.
What is the criteria? Here are a few nuts-and-bolts tips.
1. Is there a base relationship?
Criticism isn't worth the headache or hassle that comes with filtering through things from someone who doesn't know the whole story, or might be giving bad advice. It's hard enough to know what to do with one's life and decisions, without the confusion of many voices. Do, do, do accept counsel, wisdom, rebuke or advice, because that is a safe way, but take it from the people who have either earned the right, or have age and wisdom as their recommendation.
2. Critique or rebuke should be specific
Someone once told me they thought I was slipping spiritually. There was nothing in particular they could say, they were just afraid that a recent time of my life had set me back. This person had a close friendship with me which made me seriously consider it to see if there was any truth to it. It put me into a tail spin, but I had promised them to look into it and kept that promise. Finally, as I could find nothing to support what had been said, I put it away from me.
It's a valuable tip in giving or receiving criticism. Is it specific? Do you have sufficient reason to think it is or isn't true? Criticism that isn't specific, isn't. It just hurts.
3. Does the person have the right?
Criticism isn't made of tender stuff, it's a strong and necessary part of growth in any business or art. This type of criticism doesn't need personal relationship, it just needs someone who knows what they're talking about.
If someone I admired with a balanced perspective in literature, journalism or blogging would come to me and say "I think you have potential, but you need to watch out for this." I would flinch, but accept it as best as is possible because what they suggested was qualified. On the flip side, if someone who reads Buzz Feed and memes would pass an opinion on something with more meat to it, it would be frustrating and useless. As Jude says, "these are water less springs and mists driven by a storm."
If the advice is salty, no doubt it will rankle but be effective. If it's merely something that tastes bitter without any good behind it the person receiving it might be wounded, but not helped. In other words, there's a fine line between opinion and constructive criticism. Both can hurt, but the good kind of criticism heals cleanly. Truth tends to have that effect.
The truth sets free. That is the ultimate criteria of good criticism.