“Some people are constructive. Others are destructive. It’s this diversity in humankind that results in some making positive contributions and some negative contributions” (Jonas Salk).
LIKE ANY OTHER WRITER OR SPEAKER, I ENJOY PEOPLE’S EXPRESSIONS OF APPRECIATION. But in my opinion, there is no higher compliment anyone can pay than to say, “That was helpful.” If something I said or did was interesting or engaging, that’s all right. And if someone says it was enjoyable or delightful, that’s okay. But more than anything, I want to be constructive. That is, I want to be useful and beneficial. My aim is to build up or construct.
Most often, when we hear the word “constructive,” we think of constructive criticism. Criticism can indeed be constructive, but unfortunately, the constructive kind is extremely rare. If criticism is unjustified or inappropriate, or if it’s delivered unwisely, it does not build up; it simply tears down. Learning to offer the kind of criticism that “constructs” is one of the most difficult goals in the world.
But in addition to criticism, there are many other forms of constructiveness. In a world where so many of those around us have needs we can help with, opportunities to strengthen and build up are plentiful. Acts of encouragement, aid, and assistance can always be constructive, if they are infused with wisdom and kindness.
But if we desire to be constructive, we have to acquire the ability to be that way. Most of us wish to be constructive, but good intentions can carry us only so far. At some point, we must learn how to be constructive. Wisdom asks not only What needs to be done? but also How can it be accomplished? The second question is harder than the first. We have to learn how to help without doing further harm, and the truth is, it often takes years of practice to become adept at that art.
So constructiveness is a steep mountain to climb. But climb it we must, for if our lives have not been constructive, in the long run they will have been destructive. There is no middle way. Either we gather with those who are building up or we scatter with those who are tearing down. So which will it be: destructiveness or constructiveness? Of all our choices in life, very few are more far-reaching than this.
“Taking to pieces is the trade of those who cannot construct” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).