Callahan’s opinion

When a person stands at the crossroad that is called decision, he must do one of life’s most important moves. He must choose…
And whatever he may choose, the only sure thing is that he cannot go back there to undo his decision. He must live with his choice from there on…
The fact that one can take a different course even the next instant, or maybe later on, is not “undoing” anything, but is clearly yet another choice.

The most important weapon to possess, at a crossroad of decision, is criteria. A teacher, who fills the term, will arm his students with the ability of developing their own criteria. And that is a huge difference from what teachers usually do, by just telling their students what it is that they should do!
There are many ways to hone a student’s criteria, but the most vicarious one, is to provide incomplete answers to a query, letting room to the student to fill himself as many gaps as possible. At the same time, the teacher should expose to the student his very own (the student’s!) path of thinking… 
Teaching is no game, it is a very responsible act that marks people for ever, and when a teacher produces students that can “walk on their own” making himself “unnecessary” then teaching becomes unsurpassed!

A high sense of criteria is one of the cornerstones in leadership, since a commanding person, is taking decisions that concern other people outside himself. This in its turn is the heaviest of burdens in command.

But with the coming of criteria we have also a “byproduct” of it, an unavoidable waste that it leaves behind. The exercise of criticism!   
And though criteria and criticism are two different things all together, they share a common ground, they are interconnected.
But make no mistake, a person with high criteria is an entirely different thing from a person who is or acts as a critic. A simple example to this (and since we did mention leadership just earlier) is the undeniable fact that no true leader bothers to waste his time on criticism, good or bad! To simply command… is more fun.
Emotionally said: No self-contained person of this world (who leads a life of his own choice) would make a critic, because he would be occupied… being happy, instead of picking around on what somebody else does, whether good or bad, I insist!
Yet, we are encouraged in every step of our life to exercise criticism, even if we have no criteria on what we are going to step on. Vote here, click there, do you “like” this, was that movie “good or bad” tell us your “opinion” you must have “a point of view” speak up, be heard…
In the end, everybody says something, so the outcome is… nothing! Correction, nothing would be fine, it's noise!
This kind of approach is leading us towards gossip, rumors, wild coincidence and bull….
A criterion is like a compass, guiding you into your best possible decision. But what does criticism serve anyway? Oh yes, pardon me I forgot, it is working when you don’t have criteria of your own, so somebody else will “protect” you and tell you what to do. So, don’t go see that “bad” movie it’s no good. How many times have you lost a good film by not going to the movies, only to discover later on your video that it was… a masterpiece?
(Personally, far too many, I admit!) 

Since criticism is into our lives and it’s growing in size, we must know how to “read it” correctly when we see one. A well written one (so to speak) should go into four parts, which either is in the order bellow, or at least does not look like coming out of a… blender:

  1. A description-categorization that tells us what we have at hand. This first part is maybe the most important, and most… neglected, since here you are given all the information and it should be without any hint of critic.
  2. Pointing out factual positives, but staying… scientific about it.
  3. Pointing out negatives, but still staying factual (here is where critics totally “lose it”) And…
  4. One can… knock himself out with his opinion.

Of course what usually happens is that you either go deaf by the sound of the cheer and the applause, in the case of positive criticism or, on a negative one, the critic forgets completely the use of the pen, because he is too busy… shoveling dirt.
And it is important to understand that, good or bad, makes no difference here, since I am referring to the nature of criticism itself. Where does it come from, what is its purpose?
This “game” is been so distorted, that you might find yourself at the top of the world just because someone gave you an absolutely negative review but it ended up working for you!
There is no true meaning in a good or bad criticism. In either case… I rest my case!

In order to make sure that the test below is working, I actually asked a large number of people the same question, to see what I would come up with…
Do you want to give it a shot?

Test: Please name me in ten seconds one great work of a critic that did make a difference in our world.

Now, are you too looking at the ceiling?

In the world of Martial Arts criticizing reveals a mind that lacks discipline and a mouth that runs too fast.
One should keep his “opinions” for himself, when it comes to people who outrank him (in the true sense of outranking)
But this is nothing in comparison to the next one.
That is when people of higher ability (and rank) in the Art, criticize those who are following, in the sense of “making them better”. I have never ever seen a student advance even one millimeter, because he received an “intelligent” criticism, by word or writing, and by now I think I never will.
But I have seen students advance by miles via the method of a crash course, an extra hour of practice, an early Sunday morning lesson… that kind of stuff…
Passing on the Art is done in silence and with practical corrections of technique, not words. Criticism, for good or bad, is an elevator of feelings, it can take you places but it rarely, if ever, pinpoints the true ground that you stand on. A Master might talk in a critical manner only when asked by the student himself, and even then, he chooses his words carefully.    
The use of criteria is an act of the mind that can put you into a better position on the field, while the use of criticism is an act of the pointing finger, that will lead you nowhere, and sometimes it might lead you on the “unnecessary” spot of the field…

January 25, 2008