Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Critic

I have a couple of friends who I have recently named “Statler and Waldorf”. To some degree this is done in jest, but there is a serious point behind the humour. A few months ago I grew a little wearisome of their constant criticism of things and others. So I gave them the name partly in jest and partly in criticism of their constant criticism.

“Statler and Waldorf” are two characters from Jim Henson’s “The Muppet Show”. The pair don’t really participate in the show and instead sit on the balcony heckling the rest of the characters who are trying to create the show. They are archetypes for we who sit back, pour scorn and criticise the efforts of others to do the best that they can. It’s so easy to do this is it not; it is so easy to just to sit back and criticise the best efforts of others while doing nothing ourselves.

Now I realise I’m being unfair when I give my friends this name, they actually do a lot, an awful lot, for many people. That said they do at times come across as grumpy, critical old men, a bit like “Statler and Waldorf”. By the way I am very aware that I am displaying similar characteristics myself when I become critical of their criticism and grumpy of their grumpiness.

Increasingly we seem intent on fault finding and discovering the imperfections in one another. Why do we do this? Do we believe it will help us feel better about ourselves if we pour scorn on the imperfections of others? Maybe, maybe not?!?

There is a song titled “Knievel” on the latest New Model Army album "Between Dog and Wolf". It is inspired by the life of Evel Knievel, that famous stunt motorbike rider from the 1970’s. There is a line in the song that is repeated over and over again. The line is “Do they come to see a man fall – or to see him fly?” It is asking if the people come to see him achieve his feats or did they come to see him fall from the heavens? The thing about Knievel is that he was as likely to fail as he was to succeed and yet he always took off.

Now the song is not just a commentary on this crazy, complex, talented individual but also the world in which we live; a world in which we build people up to hero status only to take pot shots at them for their only too human imperfections. I often wonder if when we are shooting others down what we are really doing is attempting to deflect from our own imperfections.

The critic is someone who stands at the side taking pot shots at the people who have the courage to stand above the parapet and give something a go.

“Do they come to see a man fall – or to see him fly?”

In “The Heart of the Enlightened” Anthony De Mello tells the following story.

“A woman complained to a visiting friend that her neighbour was a poor housekeeper. “You should see how dirty her children are – and her house. It is almost a disgrace to be living in the same neighbourhood as her. Take a look at those clothes she has hung out on the line. See the black streaks on the sheets and towels!”

The friend walked up to the window and said, “I think the clothes are quite clean, my dear. The streaks are on your window.”

This story brings to mind words from Matthews Gospel (ch 7 vv 1- 12) “Why do you see the speck in your neighbours eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye.” It easy to pass judgement and to find fault in others but is that what our task is, to tear apart everyone else and to point out where they are going wrong? Or is it to make the most of who we are not only for ourselves but for the good of all. Is our task to be the critic who picks apart what others do? Or is it to contribute to life in whatever ways we can? I for one no longer wish to choose the path of lazy cynicism and criticism. I’d much rather do what I can and risk getting shot down.

In verse 12 of this chapter from Matthews Gospel Jesus states the Golden Rule of Compassion, the universal essence found in all the great religious traditions. Here he states those immortal words ‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” In these very words I find both the problem and solution to so many of humanity's troubles; in these words we find the reason why people are so harshly critical of others. I suspect that we find fault in others because deep down inside is that insidious voice, finding fault in everything we do. People often do love their neighbour as themselves. The problem being that deep down inside they feel no real love for themselves.

You see the greatest critic of them all, the one that seems to drive all other criticism, is that inner critic that quietly tears our own souls apart. I suspect that we find fault in others so as to deflect from that voice that eats away at everything loving and good within ourselves and our world for that matter.

A couple of weeks ago I explored “Love”. During the blogspot I made reference to “Philautia” or self love. I suspect that it is the lack of true “self love” that is the root cause of so many of our human problems. So often we fail to see that we are children of love, that we are formed from love. Would that critical voice that so many of us hear have power over us if we truly understood that we are formed from love? I suspect those who pick fault and are highly critical of others do so because they really lack that sense of being formed and made in love. So many of us treat our neighbours so harshly because deep down we do not experience that love from which we are formed. It would seem that most people do in fact love their neighbours as they love themselves. When they look in the mirror they hate who looks back at them; when they look into the eyes of their neighbour they hate who looks back at them.

So what can we do about it? How do we learn to transcend that critical voice within that tells us we aren’t good enough? How do we learn to allow love to work though our very being and therefore learn to love our neighbour instead of finding fault in everything that they say and do? How do we learn to love every aspect of who we are, warts and all and beauty spots too? Well it begins by seeing that we are at our true nature creatures of love, formed from love.

I constantly hear told that life is empty and meaningless. I suspect that this may be the root of the problem. I once saw life through this lens and it was this that dragged me into nihilism and the total rejection of life. It was this that caused me to shut down and to become bound by shame. Now I see so much love, even in suffering, I’ve been experiencing a deeper sense of this in recent weeks. I no longer know despair instead I witness meaning emerging from everything, especially suffering.

Matthew (ch 7 vv8-9) reads “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

What we need is courage; what we need is to live with open hearts. Did you know that courage originally meant just this? Its etymological root is the Latin word “cor”. Courage meant to speaks one’s mind by telling all of your heart. Now these days this seems to have negative connotations. To speak one’s mind often means to speak critically, but that wasn’t the case in ancient times. To speak one’s mind by telling all of your heart meant to speak from love; it meant to speak the language of the heart; it meant to speak the language of Divine Love.

This can come again; we can live with real courage again. All we need to do is to live in the world with an open heart; all that we need to do is give all that we are to life. We don’t need to put one another down in order to feel a little better about ourselves and to deflect from our own inadequacies. Instead we can see the world through loving eyes and encourage both our selves and one another to be the best we can be and therefore create the best of this our world.

So what are you going to be today? Are you going to be the critic who stands on the sidelines pointing out the imperfections in others or you going to be all that you can be in life, give all that you have to give and encourage others to do the same.

"Do they come to see a man fall – or to see him fly?"


  1. No criticism here... an excellent post! :)

  2. Thank you...and for making me smile too

  3. Excellent post danny, loving it large. :)

  4. Thank you Tony...keep on rocking in the free world groover