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The Value of Criticism…

Posted by on February 9, 2013

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…



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