Perhaps we all have experienced the situation where we meant to convey a correct criticism with good intentions to a friend, but it has unintentionally leaded to displeasure and annoyance. Have we ever thought about the best way to increase the effectiveness of criticism?
In general, when a person makes a moral criticism, two targets could be sought: (1) the action which the criticizer finds incorrect, (2) the person who has performed the incorrect action. What is painful and burdensome about criticism, and can lead to anger, grudge, and animosity is the damage that hurts one's pride. Although that person might argue about his action and bring proofs for its correctness, in reality, he is defending "himself", and is attempting to save his esteem and personality.
Therefore, to assure that a criticism does not hurt one's pride or make him react, the criticizer has to set the incorrect action as the main target of his criticism rather than its performer. If so, the criticism would be constructive, and desirable consequences would follow. The traditions of Imam Hassan (as) bear a good example of such criticism:
An old man sat to do his Wudhu / Wuzu (Ablution). But his Wudhu was not correct. Imam Hasan (a.s.) and Imam Hussain (a.s.) the grandsons of the Prophet Mohammad (saw), then two young boys, watched him. They immediately realized that the old man was not doing his Wudhu correctly, but hesitated to tell him directly. Perhaps the old man would feel humiliated by two young boys, or he might even lose interest in the act of worship.
Sitting next to him, they started to do the Wudhu and during the Wudhu, Imam Hasan (a.s.) said: "Oh Hussain my Wudhu is correct and more perfect than yours."
In reply, Imam Hussain (a.s.) insisted that his own Wudhu was better than Imam Hasan's.
Finally they said: "Let us refer to this gentleman. He is older than us and should be able to decide."
The old man was listening patiently. The boys performed their Wudhu under his supervision, one after the other. And when they had finished, he realized the Wudhu done by the boys was methodical and correct. It was his own Wudhu which was incorrect. Turning to Imam Hasan (a.s.) and Imam Hussain (a.s.), he gently said: "The Wudhu done by you is correct. I am grateful that you chose to guide me in such a beautiful manner."
Imam Hassan (as) and Imam Hussain (as) neither criticized the old man, nor reproached him for his ignorance of the ruling of Islam. Moreover, they did not refer to his way of performing Wudu, nor did they call his action void. Rather, they performed Wudu themselves and taught the old man its correct way indirectly. The result of this polite and wise criticism was that the old man confessed to his mistake explicitly, learned how to perform Wudu correctly, and thanked them with kindness and pleasure.
Indeed, having good morals is the best way of criticism and education. It is so important that according to Imam Hassan (as), "The best of the best is having good morals".
How cautious are we towards the details the Ahl al-Bayt (PBUT) have taught us in criticizing our brothers in faith? Are we helping others progress and get educated through good morals and leniency?