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Handbook of Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management, Second Edition by MARJORIE A. LYLES, MARK EASTERBY-SMITH

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Criticism, Learning, and Care

Criticism and self-criticism lie at the heart of learning. We learn from our ability to reflect critically and assess the consequences of our actions, taking on board the criticisms of others and of ourselves. But criticism, as every child learns early in life, is painful and hurtful: and it is undoubtedly part of a technology of power. At its most extreme, criticism becomes bullying—incessant nit-picking and fault-finding which undermines a person’s self-confidence and serves to perpetuate their subordinate dependent standing. In less extreme forms, criticism can still act to maintain hierarchical distinctions, to paralyze the willingness to experiment and innovate and to dread the prospect of failure, humiliation, and ridicule. Criticism can easily become internalized as self-criticism which is every bit as destabilizing as criticism by an external authority. As psychoanalysis teaches us, the voice of the super-ego can be harsher, more vigilant, more unreasonable, and harder to answer back than the voice of external authority. Yet, criticism is vital for learning. How can it be balanced and prevented from unleashing the kinds of dynamics that we identified earlier?

It is for this reason that we shall conclude this contribution by arguing that criticism and critical reflection are effective prompts for learning when balanced by an ethic of care which treats people in their different roles, as students, as subordinates and employees, as patients, and ...

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