“There is only one way to avoid criticism: Do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.” ~Aristotle
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds…so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” ~Theodore Roosevelt
What if critics didn’t exist? Not just those who make it their profession—the ones who tell us which books we should read, which movies to see, what to think of a fashion show, or what art is (or isn’t). What if all the critical tongues fell silent and only the encouragers and true teachers spoke out?
What if the nature of criticism changed? What if it didn’t have the power to embarrass or deflate? What if criticism didn’t nitpick at the cracks, didn’t exploit weaknesses, or tear things down? What if it was purely for reinforcement? What if it couldn’t undermine or destroy? What if it could only build up?
What would you wear if appearances didn’t matter? What would you say if no one could make you feel ignorant? Where would you go if you could never feel out of place? What would you try if you weren’t afraid to fail? If no one could hurt your feelings or fill your mind with doubt, who would you really be?
It is so easy to be critical—to pick apart and tear down. Trying to create, build, exist, amidst the critics is excruciating work. A word of criticism can seem harmless and simple, and yet still be sinister and violent. They can smother dreams, kill ambitions, and drown hope. They can shove creativity into a hole.
But what if the critic is internal? What if your inner voice is telling you that despite all of your doubts, you’re still not as good as you think you are? What if you, yourself, are the voice saying, “You haven’t done enough. You aren’t good enough. Why try?”
Self-criticism is the worst kind. It can put us in critical condition—weaken the pulse of who we are. It is when we put the gag in our own mouth and refuse to let ourselves speak. It is when we pull the blindfold over our own eyes and refuse to look at our dreams. It is when we put the handcuffs around our own wrists and the shackles on our own feet and force ourselves to not go anywhere or risk anything.
Self-criticism is the grim reaper of our true selves. It separates our dreams from our will—a grisly amputation—a decapitation of who we could have been. It comes to root out, to poison, and to kill. When we self-criticize, we hold a part of ourselves (thoughts, words, hopes, passions, talents) under the waters of fear and doubt; and if we hold them under long enough, we kill them.
That is not to say that we shouldn’t assess ourselves. Every now and again we should look in the mirror and say, “On second thought, I won’t wear that today.” We should weigh our words. We should consider the consequences of our actions. We should take stock of our talents and abilities. But what we must never believe is that what we say or do doesn’t matter or have value. We should never allow self-criticism to silence or paralyze us. It should be a filter, not a dam—a scale, not a crypt. Let its fiery breath refine, not cremate.