Speak no evilIt is easy to be a critic. About anything. To point out what is not right. To spot weakness. To identify shortcomings. To react.

Sure…there is value in having a few keen observers close at hand to set things straight.

But is full-time-critic really the way we want to drive conversation? Is it worthy of so much of our attention? Does it warrant the lion’s share of my emotion and energy?

Just wondering out loud. There is certainly a mountain of editorial commentary on what is wrong — in politics, with religion, with every generation but mine, in the office, with the significant other — you name it.

The Attraction

One reason we are so drawn to the role of the critic lies in the power of community. In a provocative article — What It’s Like To Go Without Complaining For A Month, Jessica Hullinger suggests that “nothing unites people more than a common dislike.”

How is that for an attractive community dynamic? These days it is not difficult to make noise and draw attention. The group might grow a little. But is anything accomplished? Does anything change? (And where is the joy in that group?)

Here is the question: what has our considered expertise in pointing out all that is wrong in the world accomplished?

Has all of the (too often shrill and abrasive) criticism ever resulted in any improvement? Surely it works at some point; otherwise we’d find more productive avenues for improvement. Right?

I don’t believe it changes anything. Pick the venue — at home, at the office, in any governing arena — dialogue rooted in the negative rarely stimulates anything positive.

Is anyone the least bit weary of all the name-calling and just plain caustic tone of many would-be change agents. We would never condone verbal abuse; yet, as Critic we too often stoop to a level that sure feels close to a lack of respect for human beings.

It’s on full display on talking head shows, in blogs of every variety, and in postings on any social media platform. Sadly, you’ll hear it in the context of neighborhood disagreements, PTA debates, and anywhere people take sides.

Sorry, Mom!

Mom was fond of the saying, “if you can’t say something nice, say nothing.” Yours likely had similar advice. I have never done a great job of this; going negative is so much easier.

Reacting requires much less than leading. Pointing to flaws is easier than crafting solutions.

Resorting to names and epithets demands little imagination or energy.

Some will argue (passionately) that on some issues there is no common ground; that to compromise is to sacrifice principle. That we must fight fire with fire.

But the question remains: where is the progress? Who is leading change for the better?

I am making a conscious effort to catch myself when about to hold forth on all that is wrong around me. I believe this is a more potent dynamic than uniting around a “common dislike.”

Mom’s advice was born of a gentle and attractive spirit. What if — for a season — we tried getting together around this dynamic?