Monday, 1 October 2012
"My Country - Right Or Wrong" - Is Criticism good or bad?
Recently, an article by a German expat in New Zealand was brought to my attention. The author pointed out that New Zealanders weren't keen to deal with any form of criticism of their country. "Thin-skinned" was the way she described it.
This triggered off reminiscences of my time in Scotland. Any form of less than over-the top enthusiasm was met with resentful, defensive silence. And you really had to pile it on. If you failed to use words like "best ever", "world-class", "tops" you were a marked person. (Talk about British understatement...!)
This is all fine, if it's about being polite. Of course no sane person goes round telling other people what a shit-hole they live in. Of course I toed the line, talking about the splendid weather (wasn't), really tasty food (wasn't) beeaauti-ful countryside (have never been).
And yet, and yet. Isn't criticism a force of good? Should it not be encouraged? Especially from outsiders, especially in a country like New Zealand which might otherwise be in danger of "im eigenen Saft schmoren". Ehem, I hope this wasn't too critical - take it as feedback!)
Wise, forward-thinking companies encourage their employees to notice things that need improving, find out where processes can be changed for the better. Lemming-like behaviour, head-down, nose to the grindstone... all these things struck me as old-fashioned, and vaguely totalitarian. I mainly grew up in countries - Holland and Germany - where criticism is encouraged from an early age on, and is seen as a mark of respect of the community you live in. It means you're interested in what's going on, you take a stance, you care, you're an active citizen. Not being critical in Holland would be seen as a sign of having dumbed-down, of being switched off, and ultimately a way to side-line yourself.
I agree of course that criticism has to be constructive, and cannot zoom in on fundamentals - like the weather in Scotland which can hardly be changed. But even here, I'd say a degree of realism would be infinitely preferable than the weird buil-up of societal pressure. Why should it not be possible in Scotland to say "Agreed, we haven't got the best weather but then again, that's why everything is so green and lush here". It would be realistic and honest. And infinitely preferable to the peevish, tight-lipped reaction which to the casual observer from outside indicates nothing more than an inferiority complex.
Personally, I find the pressure of permanent compliance with the staus quo, always asserting that you're 100% behind the mainstream, "Yes it's grrreat!, Love it! So excited! Super"...." tedious in the extreme. And no, I won't deliver.
I would still offer cookery-classes in Scotland and encourage New Zealanders to get out of their country more, and get a different perspective. No hard feelings, mate!