As a writer, I’ve worked with my share of editors. I’ve appreciated every one of them. A couple of them, I’ve downright loved.
The editors I’ve loved working with have had something important in common. Their focus was on what was right with my work, instead of what was wrong with it. I mean, eventually we got around to refining the disjointed thoughts and cleaning up the sentences that occasionally trailed off without any ending at all. In this, they were every bit as exacting as their job required. But the process began with their enthusiasm for the best of my writing, followed by coaching designed to help me bring the rest of it up to the same level.
All this is soothing for the writer’s ego, of course. But there’s also a practical lesson in there for any of us who find ourselves in a position of critiquing others, as parents, bosses, coaches, or even friends: most of the time, high standards combined with encouragement inspires better results than criticism alone.
The Full Moon in Virgo – especially this one, with the Moon conjoined prickly Mars in Virgo, and Mercury square Pluto – is a good time to meditate on one of the keywords commonly associated with Virgo: criticism. Virgo’s criticism is a consequence of two other keyword qualities, discrimination and discernment. Like its opposite sign, Pisces, Virgo is idealistic, embracing dreams of perfection – but Virgo can be a bit pessimistic about the capacity of mere mortals to live up to these ideals.
While Pisces is blessed with the ability to overlook imperfection, Virgo is tasked with seeing each failing that stands between us and the vision. Sometimes, it must be said, Virgo indulges in negative criticism; the world is full of faults and mediocrity, and Virgo’s inability to ignore these things can turn her into a cranky scold. But sometimes, Virgo criticizes because she is enraptured by a vision of greatness that lies only a few punctuation marks away.
My mother was born with the Moon in Virgo. When I tell astrologers this, they tsk-tsk – “You poor thing!” they say, imagining a childhood spent practicing hospital corners and declining verbs under the supervision of a scowling prison matron. It’s true that Mom’s standards for us were high. Get good grades. Be polite. Always do your best. Be the bigger person. These were hard to live up to, and when we were small and learning these lessons, Mom was tough, and tolerated nothing less than our best effort.
Expectations like these could be pretty rough coming from someone who doesn’t like you and has little hope that her opinion will improve with prolonged exposure. But luckily (and perhaps this is the influence of her Venus in Pisces peeking through), Mom made us feel that she really liked us. And even when she scolded, she prefaced her comments with something like, “I know you’re better than that.” Even when we really, truly weren’t.
Mom used to say that most people behave just about the way you expect them to behave. If you treat them as though you assume they’ll do the right thing, then they will go out of their way to prove you right. I never figured out whether she was right about this, or whether she was just a really good judge of character and surrounded herself with diamonds in the rough. But for whatever reason, for more than three decades, I watched the unlikeliest people blossom in her presence. People loved her – not just because she was friendly and funny, but because she made them feel like better people than they had ever imagined they could be.
I thought of Mom when a Virgo friend posted about honesty one day on Facebook. She wrote something like, “People think that being honest means criticizing people for everything that’s wrong about them. But I believe honesty means that when someone is really wonderful, or has done something amazing, then I should tell them that.”
I like this perspective. My friend was not advocating that we massage others with condescending, Hallmark sentimentality. Rather, it’s a reminder that criticism doesn’t have to be brutal, and that the ability to perceive the faults that prevent others from being great is no more important than the ability to make them believe that they are capable of greatness at all.
If you find yourself in a position of being someone’s “editor,” I propose beginning not with a litany of errors and failings, but with a vision of what she might become – and more importantly, the ideal she envisions for herself. What if everything were to come together in just the right way – if she found the true center of herself, committed to the hard work of being and doing better, of humbly serving her vision? What would her paradise look like?
And how can you help her get there?
© 2012 April Elliott Kent