How to benefit from Criticism


WHEN we try to appreciate a culture, and when that

culture is the one in which we have grown up or from

which we draw our governing ideals and are likely

from overpartiality to minimise its deficiencies or from overfamiliarity

to miss aspects or values of it which would strike

an unaccustomed eye, it is always useful as well as interesting

to know how others see it. It will not move us to change our

view-point for theirs; but we can get fresh light from a study

of this kind and help our self-introspection. But there are different

ways of seeing a foreign civilisation and culture. There

is the eye of sympathy and intuition and a close appreciative

self-identification: that gives us work like Sister Nivedita’s Web

of Indian Life or Mr. Fielding’s book on Burma or Sir John

Woodroffe’s studies of Tantra. These are attempts to push aside

all concealing veils and reveal the soul of a people. It may well

be that they do not give us all the hard outward fact, but we are

enlightened of something deeper which has its greater reality;

we get not the thing as it is in the deficiencies of life, but its

ideal meaning. The soul, the essential spirit is one thing, the

forms taken in this difficult human actuality are another and

are often imperfect or perverted; neither can be neglected if we

would have a total vision. Then there is the eye of the discerning

and dispassionate critic who tries to see the thing as it is in its

intention and actuality, apportion the light and shade, get the

balance of merit and defect, success and failure, mark off that

which evokes appreciative sympathy from that which calls for

critical censure. We may not always agree; the standpoint is

different and by its externality, by failure of intuition and selfidentification

it may miss things that are essential or may not

98 A Defence of Indian Culture

get the whole meaning of that which it praises or condemns: still

we profit, we can add to our sense of shade and tone or correct

our own previous judgment. Finally there is the eye of the hostile

critic, convinced of the inferiority of the culture in question, who

gives plainly and honestly without deliberate overcharging what

he conceives to be sound reason for his judgment. That too has

its use for us; hostile criticism of this kind is good for the soul and

the intellect, provided we do not allow ourselves to be afflicted,

beaten down or shaken from the upholding centre of our living

faith and action. Most things in our human world are imperfect

and it is sometimes well to get a strong view of our imperfections.

Or, if nothing else, we can at least learn to appreciate opposite

standpoints and get at the source of the opposition; wisdom,

insight and sympathy grow by such comparisons.





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