The Value of Criticism…

It’s no secret to those that know me well, some of the things I enjoy most are discussions about meaning and the human condition.  How words and phrases shape how we think, how we evolve and essentially how we interact with the world…I love that shizzz.   And nothing is more valuable to a discussion like that, then hearing a completely opposing opinion; it forces us to look within ourselves   and either sharpen our blades of objectivity, or concede that we need to correct course.

So, when I logged onto Facebook near the end of the December (after a 6 month hiatus), I had completely forgotten (see: blocked out) about the lack of dialogue that actually happens on the social network.  Ideas are slapped onto status updates, anyone that objects is either referred to as a “troll” or a “hater” and therefore the only thing that grows is our self-righteous opinions that all of our thoughts are consistently correct.

Newsflash… they aren’t.

Here is the status update that inspired this post:

“Attempting to build credibility through criticism might seem intelligent, but only to the like-minded individual.  #Creating > Criticizing.”

Now, I already have a problem with short burst claims like these  trying to fit all the nuance of life into something like a greater than symbol.   Because though the author might enjoy using math symbols, he’s missing a huge part of the equation here (Boom, word play).

So allow me to start a discussion where we can share ideas…

How do we ever know if we've made mistakes if we ignore all criticism?

How do we ever know if we’ve made mistakes if we ignore all criticism?


The Value Of Criticism:

To be clear from the start, there is criticism and there are assholes.  There are parts of each of our lives that are clearly in need of criticism and the ugly light of truth; the sad part is that most of us want nothing to do with people closest to us that don’t might not agree that we’re lovely and perfect.  Unfortunately, these are the people we need the most, more on this later.
There are many people that just don’t want to improve or grow, no matter what the massive red flags waving in their face might be.  Only after significant turmoil can they accept reality and no objective criticism is going to stop their delusions.  I have been both inside and out of this looking glass, and it ain’t pretty.

The key is compassion, which I’ll also explain later.

So let’s keep this all in mind as I make my case for criticism.
Without criticism there is no allowance for the spectrum of truth/opinion, without truth there is no growth, and without growth there is no progress (see: Religion – Billions of people exerting all of their energy in believing the palpably untrue in the face of significant opposing data).

Innovators, Entrepreneurs, Engineers, and Artists are all at their core both critics and creators.

They believe the world they are living in is flawed and  can be made better. Without this critical evaluation of our surroundings, apathy takes hold and we remain stunted in our knowledge or perspective of the world.

Now, for argument’s sake, let’s say that creating continues without criticism.  In my opinion, without critics, creation becomes homogenous, unimaginative, and empty.  Criticizing and the critical mind provides much value in pursuit of progress, beauty, and growth.  If we ignore the criticism from within and from without… nothing changes. We continue to beat the same drum hoping for a different sound.

The key ingredient though is compassion. Compassion to accept our misgivings, take responsibility and move forward.  And also, the compassion to accept that not all criticism is warranted or valuable, but we need to cultivate a sense of self-worth so that not every punch leaves a mark.

Typically, no punches land harder than those from the people we love and/or respect.

Those closest to us have the vested interest in seeing us succeed, in seeing us happy and flourishing in life.  It only makes sense that these well-intentioned people will do what they believe is in their ability to help.

This is certainly a double edged sword, because some honest feedback from these people may very well be exactly what we need in our search for growth, but the impact from their words can feel like a brand recently plucked from the fire.   Evaluating these criticisms for value free from emotion, is a difficult task, and one  I am still learning to navigate.  Because if we cannot embrace the words of those  closest to us, those that know us best, where does that leave us?

Well, it leaves us looking to the Twitter, Facebook, and image quotes from strangers to give us direction in life.  I am not saying there is no value here, but I am sure you can see the dangerous implications and the rabbit hole it leads to.

In the context of art, the best artists are the most devoted critics, both of themselves and the world around them.

Dali, Picasso, The Beatles, Hemingway, Michael Jackson, DeNiro, Nolan, Steve Jobs, Lady Gaga etc….(this list could go on for pages)

These are some of our icons because a world of critics spoke out.   The same happens  every day on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and to local creators around the world.  Art and Creativity without the critic both internal and external is meaningless.  It strips away the beauty of what art is meant to be; garbage to one person and pure magic to the next.

This is all without mentioning the reality that criticism in and of itself can be creation and very valuable indeed.  Look at Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Louis CK and most respected comedians.

The purest form and value of a comedian is criticism, to point out the emperor’s birthday suit and raise the awareness of what society has come to wilfully ignore.   If we exist only in a vacuum of our own beliefs, we never learn if they are worthy of our time and of the frequency we use them in our interaction with the world.

Mark Twain once said, “If you find yourself on the side of the majority it is time to pause and reflect…”  and this is impossible without subjecting your opinions to the world that might oppose them.

The most ironic part of this entire discussion, is the person who owns the aforementioned status update is a videographer.  As videographers, their entire editing process becomes worthless and grey without learning to embrace their role as a master critic; both of themselves and of the images they capture.    And for those that are curious, the reason I didn’t address my issue with his comment on Facebook is that my days of fighting the good fight (aka trolling) on the internet are over.  It’s much better to discuss in an environment that invites it; as on FB people take a dissenting opinion as a personal attack, certainly not my intention.

My overall point here is not to prove that criticism is more valuable than creation, but only through collaboration and true objection can we arrive at magic.

In reality, every opinion will have those that agree, those that disagree, and those that could care less… it’s up to us to continue to create with compassion towards ourselves and our critics, knowing that each actionable step should be a step forward towards understanding the world, not backwards or in place.

Creation is merely the beginning…



Categories: Open Discussions | Leave a comment

The Image Quote Trap

This year, one of the coolest things I’ve added to my life this year is the mental collaboration with a good friend of mine, Andrew.  Aside from the onslaught of daily emails we send one another,  we have been having weekly phone calls to discuss the implications of, “What it means to live a valued life?”

This question alone has taken us from subjects like the danger of unmitigated input from social media, the overarching benefits of independent thought, “neuro-bunk”  (TED talk video below) and how science is misused by marketers to sell snake oil,  the definition of “do no harm”, the consequences of  beauty,  fashion, and celebrity culture, and most importantly… the elusive experience of reality.

There is a quote I read recently that seems to underlie a lot of interesting theories and conversations Andrew and I have had this year.

“Men believe a thing when they behave as though it were true.”

I am pretty sure the quote came from the Eleanor Roosevelt book I recently finished, “You Learn By Living” ; I’ve been reading with a voracious appetite recently so I might be wrong about the source, but either way, its a book worth reading.

The concept this quote slaps me with is the hypocrisy around and within us (myself included).  We say one thing, post an image quote on our Facebook wall, Re-Tweet it, get a tattoo of it, and whisper it aloud before we drift to sleep.  Surely this outword promotion of positive ideas validates our desire to be better people, but does it move us further away from realizing it?

When the sun rises we step into the world and face difficult decisions at every turn that challenge our core beliefs and the platitudes we use as crutches.   We becomes slaves to emotions we refuse to explore, that cause us pain, yet we continue to move forward stride by stride with the drum beating chant of the positivity and self-help soliders that have infected all aspects of our culture.   But when the glow of positive thinking dims, we don’t have to look too far into the past to see how the reality of our lives, more often than not, does not match the quotes we associate with.

It is this gap between reality and perception that we all must be aware of.   Because the hope that underlies these platitudes is definitely a good thing, but when we use them as substitutes for legitimate action, this is where the ball of yarn begins to unravel.  This social pseudo action relieves us of the ugliness that comes with facing reality.  And its the car wreck of reality that stands in the way of us becoming better people and accepting the disparity between our lives and our Instagram philosophies.

If your actions aren’t matching your outward rhetoric then eventually something is going to give.  Because this chasm between who we want to be and who we actually are gets further and further away from us the more we turn our back to it.

Make no mistake, reality will be as painful as you think (if not worse) when you stare it in the face, but that’s where all our answers are.  Nobody ever said life was easy.  It’s surely an incredible adventure if you step into it… but easy, it is not.   Think about it.

Here’s a cool video from Molly Crockett, whom I might very well be in lust with, called Beware Neuro-Bunk. This is an excellent message, and the massive problem Molly addresses is a disease that has infected nearly every aspect of the diet, fitness, and health industry.   And we all believe the “neuro-bunk” of marketers that appeal to our insecurities because usually we don’t want to face the reality which would, in the end,  provide us with all the solutions we’d need.


If you can think of any realities that you have been avoiding, I’d love to hear about them and what sort of changes you plan to make.

Categories: Philosophical Arguments | Leave a comment

My 33rd and The Travel Companion Fallacy

To be happy in life, one component is having goals that excite you, goals that make you giddy for the future and what feelings those experiences or possessions might bring.

Usually, regardless if your dream list is filled with possessions or experiences, I guarantee that somewhere penciled in is a travel itinerary.   Countries and Cities that you’ve seen photos of on Facebook, read in books, or watched- speechless – as they acted as backdrop to your favourite films.  Singles, couples, parents, and retirees, all wanting to check off from their bucket lists the places they’ve dreamed of all their lives.

But unfortunately, many never make it to their desired destination, this is mainly due to the pesky little bother that seems to get in the way of most things we want in life… other people. Not to say that this is good or bad, but with most things in life sometimes loftier, personal goals get sacrificed along the path of necessity and practicality.

And I say this because of something interesting I noticed during my birthday this year, the story goes as follows (as always, please allow me some exposition):

On the afternoon of July 24th, 2012, the day before my 33rd birthday I was sitting at “home” in Basel, Switzerland when I realized that the next day would be like any other.  I would go for a swim and a run by the Rhine River, visit my favourite café to do some work, and perhaps take a leisurely walk in the evening to meet some new people.  Certainly an above average day according to most, but come on, this was my 33rd  which has always been a lucky/special number for me so I’d be damned if the next day would be business as usual.

At 3pm I headed to the train station with one destination in mind, and though it took me a few hours to fake deliberate my options, by 6pm I had my tickets in hand and my accommodations booked.

Tomorrow I would be doing 33 in style… La Belle Paris.

Pardon my French, but I fuckin’ LOVE Paris.  Admittedly, I don’t consider myself overly cultured but I do appreciate beauty, at times to my demise and Paris has this in spades. There is just something about Paris that takes hold of me while I’m there.  Oddly enough, it’s not a city I would ever choose to live in, but when I visit I’m a happy happy man.

I have been to Paris twice before, firstly on a 30 hour backpacking whirlwind with a good friend and a few years later with a girlfriend on a weekend getaway while living in London, England.   Both trips were a lot of fun in their own right, especially the hotel my girlfriend and I found with the sound -proofed rooms.  Oh-La-La!  However, this past trip to Paris was the biggest surprise of them all, as it turned out to be my most enjoyable trip as well as #2 on the all-time best birthday list.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some kick-ass birthdays shared with amazing friends and family, but in your 20s most birthdays are celebrated in the midst of an alcohol induced fog that lets up days later and you’re just left wondering who was actually in attendance.

But this year, there was just something impactful, magical, and lasting, about July 25th, 2012.

I let the day guide me as it pleased, first to an Organic foods restaurant for lunch where the waitress  totally changed my itinerary; she convinced me with her Moroccan cuteness that since I’d already been twice to the Louvre, I should skip it entirely and head straight to Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

My only reason to visit the land of the dead was to pay my respects to Oscar Wilde, my favourite playwright, author, and dead persecuted gay poet.  To him, I can attribute one of the most meaningful quotes in my life, “Be Yourself. Everybody else is already taken.”  The simplicity and subtlety of the text juxtaposed with the profound and far reaching wisdom always leaves me in reverence.  The quote itself is nearly comical but to hold the implication up against your own life can be a very sobering shot of consciousness.

In the cemetery I was lucky to meet up with two Canadian girls and we became a scavenger team following Indiana Cecchin’s tombstone treasure map around the cemetery grounds.  Notably, we found Edith Plaif, Proust, Voltaire, Jim Morrison, and – due to my insisting and a 25min search through what can only be described at the Jewish Ghetto – Modigliani.

After that I walked through the Louvre courtyard and through the gardens/park that lead to it, all the way up the Champs élysées where I ducked into a Starbucks to check some birthday messages.  Within my happy messages inbox was an email from a friend I hadn’t spoken to for a few years due to a falling out… it was unexpected surprise and it made me happy.

So now with some more good vibes and a macadamian nut cookie coursing through my veins, though my legs said, “No more” my heart begged to not have to wait any longer. The heart wants what it wants.

When I exited the Trocodero metro stop, the sky was the colour of blue I’ve only see in other people’s photos, and as I rounded the corner, a little giddier than a man should be… there she was, naked, confident, and beautiful.  The Eiffel Tower.

Somewhere there must be a photo of how ridiculous I looked taking this photo with my cargo shorts turned into cargo speedos.

Before descending to the fountains, I just stood there in awe, loving my life and everyone around me. I was in such an amazing mood, I spent a good 5-10 minutes just offering to take photos for couples who were struggling to do the job themselves. It made me feel even better.

But here comes the absolute best part of the day… THE FOUNTAINS!  Holy hot blazes of hell this was incredible.

People were gathered all around and INSIDE the fountain, playing in the water in their bathing suits, underwear and rolled up pants. You could just tell they were smiling in gratitude for the chance to experience such a wonderful day.  Some people might have a problem with the French, but I found it so kind of all of these people to join me on my birthday.

And yes, I am aware that ‘these waters’  as mentioned in the video above is not an acceptable
turn of phrase  when describing a fountain. haha

I cannot remember ever being around such a large group of people that seemed so happy at the same time.  I mean truly happy.  Not like when someone’s favourite team wins something, or when you buy a really nice dress or suit, not vapid things like that, but just honestly and purely filled with joy.  As cheesy as it sounds, the entire experience really made my heart sing. I continued to lie on the grass using my shoe as a pillow just silently giving thanks for such a wonderful day, and I didn’t stop smiling until the train back to Basel (I still had two days left in Paris after my birthday).

Now, with all that being said, I was surprised when a few people sounded sad for me when they heard I went to   Paris “alone”, which is typically the pessimist term given to doing anything independently.

I think too many people are really afraid to spend time in solitude, hearing their own voice.  It eats them alive. With the connectivity of the web today we are in overload of empty validation from meaningless sources: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Smartphones, IM, and Instagram accounts.  We come to value the voices of others over our own, that any type of connection is a good connection, and that we don’t feel complete without someone constantly acknowledging that we exist.

This becomes normal, and the thought of taking a vacation “alone” becomes almost anxiety inducing for most people.   The common rhetoric are things like, “Its better to share those memories with someone.” and my favourite, “I’d get really bored on my own.”

Sharing memories is a wonderful thing, but typically, this is impossible. We all view the world differently, want different things and have vastly different priorities in what an ideal vacation means.  For example, I love art and the outdoors.  While in a big European city, I want to visit museums, outdoor parks, cool exhibits, and learn all I can about the culture.  To some people this is nightmarish as they might want to shop, lay on the beach (should there be one), and lightly pass by a view attractions before going clubbing at night till 6am.  If I were to vacation with someone like that, many compromises would be made and each person’s trip would be sacrificed in the process.   To find a perfect travel companion is like winning the lottery.

Coincidentally, here is a photo I recently found on, sorry that it’s an iphone photo.  :(


Not everyone’s opinion, but I do wonder how often this happens.

My only point here, is that I think everyone should take a vacation on their own.  Learn to make decisions without a town meeting and instead trust your own motives and convictions to lead a meaningful journey with only your own voice to guide you.

Sometimes you may not like the conversations that arise in your mind, nor the questions you suddenly realize have gone unanswered too long, but to gain a sense of freedom and self-reliance is a feeling I certainly endorse.

And though my 3-day trip was certainly one that continues to put a smile on my face, I think I will save my next trip to Paris for someone that equally makes my heart sing.

Here’s to hoping she likes museums too.  :)

True Story: I was nearly clipped by two taxi cabs trying to take this photo. Totally worth it.

Categories: Trips, What I'm doing... | Leave a comment