A couple of weeks ago I met with a PhD student for a cup of tea before the summer break. We got onto the subject of ‘being critical’, it was a conversation that made me see the word quite differently. I often say to students ‘you need to be more critical’ the phrase just trips off my tongue. The student, who is Chinese, made the point that in her culture being critical implies disruption of harmony and consensus. It implies confrontation.
So what other ways of working might we use to describe those essential deeper qualities of analysis, but in ways that pay attention to harmony and relationships. We could stress the importance of exploration, engaging in conversation to look from different angles, perspectives and traditions; in short we are open minded and aware of our own stance and that of others. We could pay attention to how we might make improvement; that sounds so much better than weakness. And the areas that might benefit from further work and where we might go to for these new insights. In the spirit of where we have come from and what we hope to achieve, we might talk about how we make progress and the steps we need to take. Finally, there is something important about humility in stating our case with confidence, but not arrogance.
These qualities pay attention to a processes of social enquiry by which I mean paying attention to both the ‘I’ and the ‘we’. For example the conversations we have with others, seeing and exploring from their perspectives, as they do likewise. And to pay attention to how we are working together and how we are arriving at the views that we are forming. This form of reflexive process is rarely spoken about when we talk of being ‘critical’ but I think a move from the ‘I’ to the ‘we’ might occasionally be worth a try in our efforts to develop relationships.