Brutal honesty yields high quality

It’s important to balance respect and honesty when offering criticism


RYAN PUGH | The Daily Evergreen

Junior fine arts major Roy Rand relies on criticism to help him improve his work.

LUKE HUDSON, Evergreen columnist

It was the French essayist Luc de Clapiers who said, “The art of pleasing is the art of deception.” In many cases this sentiment is proven correct by the intricacies of our social lives. People of all walks of life have discussed and debated the relationship between kindness and honesty for hundreds of years.
Many have tried to categorize situations and develop methods for choosing which quality to favor in different circumstances. If you read anything on the subject, you will find the inevitably safe answer most writers come to is that “it depends.”
It depends on who you are talking to, what you’re talking about and the circumstances of your actions and theirs. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this answer, it doesn’t fully address the question of which is more favorable.
There are clear examples of the relationship between honesty and kindness in the professional world. Some hopefully will provoke thoughts about the role of these virtues in your own life and help you make a decision about which to favor.
Aurora Clark, a professor in WSU’s department of chemistry, shared her experience with the delicate process of peer review.
“As a reviewer,” she said, “I often sign my reviews so that they are not anonymous — as I feel that that helps me to be accountable to the concept that you can be honest, but respectful.”
Peer review in the sciences is often toted as a brutal and rigorous process, but the exercise is designed to be harsh in order to ensure quality ideas are presented using quality methods.
The truth takes precedent in the scientific method because without it, no conclusive experiments could ever be done well.
“I do believe that there are certain situations,” Clark said, “where a reviewer can act to help guide a person’s research in a better direction.”
A deep similarity between the arts and sciences is the level of scrutiny and harsh critique that pieces undergo both before and after they are published. Junior fine arts major Roy Rand is no stranger to peer review.
“Definitely in the art career,” he said, “it’s not just about being brutally honest but explaining some way they can improve.”
Again, a critical component of an effective critique is how honesty helps creators improve their craft. But as Rand said, that critic also must present constructive feedback for their honesty to truly have value.
The idea of the value of honesty is important to understand how to effectively use honesty as a constructive tool rather than a hindrance on the aspirations of others.
Rotary International has a rubric known as the Four-Way Test to determine if something ought to be said or thought.
The first tenet is that it must be the truth, but the most interesting of the four is that the thought must be beneficial to all involved. Without this principle, honesty doesn’t really mean a lot; it can end up being merely abrasive and wasteful to both personal and professional relationships.
“Of course you need honesty,” Rand said, “but having a genuine heart behind that honesty to help that person improve.”
Many times when we talk about being genuine, we tell people to speak from the heart. With that in mind, it might not surprise you then to learn that Luc de Clapiers also said, “All grand thoughts come from the heart.”