By Ike Señeres

Many people would think that criticism is always bad, and that it always accentuates the negatives, but that is not really so. Perhaps this misunderstanding stems from the fact that criticism is usually defined as the “expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes”. From that perspective, the synonyms of criticism are censure, condemnation, denunciation and disapproval. There is however another definition that is more positive, and that is the other meaning that criticism is the “analysis of and judgement of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work”. It is in this latter category that literary criticism belongs to, and by some stretch of the imagination, it also includes food criticism. It is in this context that I could claim that I was a student of the late Dr. Doreen Fernandez, one of the leading literary critics of our time who was also a food critic.

It was too long ago but I still remember what Dr. Fernandez taught me and my classmates, that criticism is the skill that enables an observer to tell the difference between good and bad works and between what is right and what is wrong. Yes, it was too long ago but if I remember it correctly, it was also her who taught us that in order to be a good writer; we have to be able to see what others could not see, because otherwise we could not really write well if our powers of observation are merely within the ordinary. It goes without saying that while in the process of doing such observations, we should already be able to tell what is good and what is bad, and also what is right and what is wrong. That said, it should be made clear that criticism should not merely focus on what is bad and what is wrong, it should also dwell on what is good and what is right.

Having made my point clear, I could now say that “constructive criticism” is actually an oxymoron, because criticism is a supposedly neutral activity that should neither be constructive nor destructive. On the more realistic side however, I am aware that there are many people who would criticize for the sole purpose of destroying something or someone in which case that could qualify as “destructive criticism”, even if there is no such a thing. For whatever it is worth, these “false critics” should have decency of saying what how something or someone could become, good after demolishing something or someone as being bad. In layman terms, that would be so noisy talking about what the social problems are, without even offering a single solution to these problem. That is like saying that a person in authority is doing something wrong, without saying what should be the right thing that he should be doing.

As someone who was born and raised in Mindanao, I often wonder why the majority of the people there are in favor of martial law there, while it seems that many of the people in Luzon are against it. Without stating the obvious, it is very clear that the purpose of declaring martial law in Mindanao is to restore peace and order there. For the sake of argument, we could say that those who are against extending martial law in Mindanao are also in favor of restoring peace and order there. That is how it is now, many people in Luzon are against the extension of martial law in Mindanao, but even if they are against that proposal, they are also not saying what their solution is, as a way of solving the problem that they have stated.

As someone who lives in a gated community here in Metro Manila, I could not feel the security risk of living among drug crazed criminals, or even ordinary citizens who turn to committing crimes in order to feed their drug habits. As someone who belongs to a law abiding and God fearing family, I do not have relatives who had become drug users or drug users. Perhaps that is the reason why I have not felt and I have not known how serious the drug problem is until the government started to aggressively campaign against it. As a result of that campaign, some people came forward to criticize it, without offering alternative solutions to the problem, as to how the problem could be solved.

As someone who votes for our national officials, I would expect them to say something substantive or meaningful whenever they would open their mouths to say something. I have observed however that many of them would say something just to say something, perhaps for the sole purpose of criticizing the incumbents. While I understand that these critics may be forced to say something whenever they are interviewed by the media, how I wish that aside from saying something that is substantive, they should also say something constructive, otherwise the listeners or viewers might suspect that they either do not know what to say, or they do not know that their audience could detect their lack of depth. Much as I would say that constructive criticism is an oxymoron, I would also say that these critics should engage in constructive engagement of their audiences, to make it worth our while to vote for them.

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