Avoid Critique, Contempt, and Comparison

I was doing yoga, as I sometimes do, and in the opening pose the instructor said that the full benefits of practice can only be achieved if we are focusing on our mind, body, and soul, and if we are committed to doing no harm. She went on to say that this means we must leave behind our inclinations to critique, have contempt, or engage in comparisons.

I get the first two, easily enough.

I find “critique” to be a word that means a positive process of improvement, as opposed to “criticism”. Critique allows for discussion and synergistic evolution of ideas. Even so, engaging in critique when you are practicing movements and breathing in an attempt to stretch and to learn your own potential can very easily devolve into criticism. “Why can’t I do this pose I could do last week” is one thought that flits through my mind, too often. It is not a supportive critique, but an expression of frustration and failure.

Critique can also derail other creative attempts, just as design of complex, beautiful, healthy, zero net energy (ZNE) buildings, as it focuses on the negative instead of pointing clearly to how much has been achieved. The critique may be, “You did not get to ZNE with this project, why?” Instead, we should strive to move from critique into a celebration of progress, and employ the lessons learned in our work on the next building, without regrets. Therefore it is more beneficial to say “It is impressive that you were able to get to such a low energy use. Tell us how you achieved that”.

Contempt is something we should always fight against. Contempt for our own bodies is most definitely unsupportive of acceptance or of personal improvement. Contempt in yoga keeps you unaware of your own body’s strengths and abilities. Contempt in architecture or any creative endeavor forges a separation from the real parameters of the work. If I have contempt for the client, the mission, the program, or the project in any way, I cannot serve well and attain the greatest achievement possible in that project. This separation, this chasm of contempt, keeps valuable information from informing the design, practically guaranteeing a less than worthy result.

But what about “comparison”? This one got me, for a short time. Doesn’t it help to compare? Shouldn’t I see what the instructor is doing and strive to emulate her position, her breathing, her reach? No! I am not her, and she is not me.

There are dangers inherent in comparison. She is a practiced yogini who is about 30 years younger than me and 30 lbs lighter (at least). My body can do some things hers can’t, and she can certainly do things I may never achieve. So be it. I am practicing yoga to learn about and accept me, and to improve myself. She does not matter except as a guide to my own journey. And even comparisons within myself can be detrimental. Comparing the left side of my body to the right means I will never be satisfied with how far my left hip will stretch. It is much less flexible than my right. If I chose not to compare, and instead note what is possible, then I can be happy with the little bit farther I just managed to reach. I wouldn’t push that left hip herder than I should. I’d be proud, and keep working to improve even further, while being joyful in this moment.

Comparing the energy performance in EUI (energy use index of kBTU/sf/year) of one building to another is inherently faulty, even though it is the best method we currently have to begin to understand our energy use and our energy efficiency potential. Each building is built differently, with different materials, different window/wall ratios, perhaps under different codes or guidance systems, and by different teams. The occupancy levels differ, and the density likely differs as well. We can lump types of buildings together and types of occupancy to be able to sort-of compare, and this is what Energy Star Portfolio Manager helps us to do across the nation. We must do this in this time of needed transition to greater energy use awareness. However, this comparison is not very informative overall as it only shows the biggest discrepancies, without information as to why the differences exist. So let’s seek to not compare between buildings. Let’s use EUI as a tool, similar to yoga, to learn, accept, and improve the performance of each building, only in relation to its own potential. EUI is most useful when a building uses its own current EUI in comparison to past EUI data and in relation to future goals for EUI. This is a valid method, useful in seeing changes including improvements and losses in performance.

Instead of critique, contempt, and comparison, we need curiosity, consideration, continual improvement, and a bit of celebration on top.

  • Curiosity about what is going right and what is going wrong.
  • Consideration of the potential technologies, ideas, and processes to make changes.
  • Continual Improvement as each step we take, each new idea we employ, every new circumstance, can help us to see more that can be done.
  • Celebration to solidify and share our progress, so more progress can be made, more quickly.

I can’t resist what just occurred to me. It is time to 4C (foresee) our design future, and be greener.





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