“Good Job!”… Really?

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I was talking with another girl from France studying at GW this year and I realized one thing about GW, everybody is very positive about … well, pretty much everything.

Let me give you an example. I made the terrible mistake of taking a marathon class (and I am really not an athlete). Every week, since I run much slower than the rest of the class, I lose my group (literally, I lose them). Usually when I am finally back at the gym after running 45 minutes everybody has left for about ten minutes. During the fourth class I tried to run faster and most people from my group were waiting in front of the gym when I arrived. Strangely when I joined them, one boy high-fived me saying “Good job!”.

Two things about that:

1) First, he was not the instructor so I did not understand why I felt he had to encourage me.

2) I arrived 10 minutes after everybody else and I did not run as far as them (I had turned around after 20 minutes not to be too late). Not really what I would call a good job.

I realized that everybody is always very encouraging in all of my classes. Professors always say “good question” or “this is a very interesting comment”. Even when I bake, the few people that are courageous enough to eat the mixture I cook seem to feel forced to say “this is absolutely delicious” when, really,  “this is edible” would be enough considering how bad a cook I am.

In France, and particularly at my school, things are very different. Even when you are attending a lecture of several hundred people and the professor encourages people to ask questions, if you dare doing so to ask a question not very original, the professor might humiliate you in front of everybody answering that your question is stupid (which often leads to nobody ever daring asking a question).

Since I am used to having very tough teachers, I did not know people at GW expect as many positive remarks as negative remarks when they ask for a critique. For instance, I had to write a one-page critique for every short-story the students from my “Fiction Writing” class had written. I started writing very negative critiques until I received the critiques from the other students in my class about my own story. All were very positive with only a few criticisms. Besides, my teacher mentioned “critiques should not be all negative or mean.” Oops.

Is one technique better than the other? We have a saying in France, “qui aime bien chattie bien”, which basically means that you are tough with people you appreciate. I tend to be in favor of harsh criticisms because I think they made me progress more. Yet, my friend was arguing that being that negative about everything encourages self-censorship and goes against creativity. I’ll let you take sides while I start packing to go back to the country with the highest percentage of people thinking the future will be worse than the present. Negativity, you said?

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