I can’t stop thinking about it…
The other day, some of our kids and grandkids came for a visit. Among them was our youngest grandchild, the cause of my curiosity.
Next month, she will be just 2½. She’s quite a character. She tries to be fiercely independent and walks with great confidence. Resolute in her opinions, last year she was going through that typical toddler stage at which she replied to every and any request with a determined “No!!!” When our son/her dad tried to urge her to say yes, she looked at him squarely in the eye, and insisted, “NO ‘yes’ daddy!”
She loves to draw, colour, and paint…
So, back to what happened the other day…
While everyone was interacting, I was busy laying out the food I’d prepared earlier in the day for a buffet. I noticed this little girl walk into the space between our dining room table and kitchen island, stop in her tracks, and stare at the painting resting on an easel in the corner of the dining room.
Fascinated to see such a young child study the painting so carefully, I stopped what I was doing to watch her. Just as I began wondering what thoughts were going through her head she turned to me, and declared,
“I don’t like it.”
I almost fell over.
“What?” I asked, not sure I heard her words correctly. “What did you say?”
“I don’t like it,” she repeated.
Now I was really fascinated, so I asked her, “Why don’t you like it?”
Her answer, “Because.”
No explanation. So, now, like a fool, I began pleading my case to this two year old. I told her I was the one who painted it and that I’d also painted the artwork behind her.
She turned to look, and immediately turned back to the first one. I mumbled on, pointing out again that I was the painter, that the subject was only flowers – and ended with the grand, “Who asked your opinion anyhow?”
I’d argued in vain. Unmoved, she barely glanced at me as she went off to continue playing with her cousins…
Later in the evening after everyone had left, I repeated the exchange with my husband Paul. He asked why I was feeling so sensitive.
On the contrary, I told him, I was fascinated. What about the painting prompted this two year old to stop, look and give an unasked for opinion? Why would she say she didn’t like it? What did she find disagreeable? I wished aloud that she could have had the ability to articulate the reason for her reaction. My musings led to the bigger picture, the question of criticism overall: understanding where it comes from, the person’s agenda, expertise, background, knowledge, our reaction to it, our own tendencies to be critical, etc.
I had conversations about it with others. “Out of the mouths of babes” and “She’s pure of heart” and “She knows what she likes” were some of their responses. Those discussions became deeper, leading to provocative debate over the definition of criticism, why people criticize, and whether there can be any value to critics generally.
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