The work of a critic is easy

Don’t settle for an easy life, judging the efforts of others; instead, jump in, get your hands dirty, and discover and pursue your own dreams

One of my favourite ever speeches is from the Pixar movie Ratatouille. The food critic, Anton Ego, voiced by the brilliant Peter O’Toole, talks about the work of a critic:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.

Whenever I think about this speech, I ask myself: what type of person do I want to be? Do I want to be the critic on the sidelines, or the person in the thick of it, attempting to actually do something, even if it does end up being an ‘average piece of junk’?

Ego has it exactly right. Being a critic is easy. Lording ourselves in judgement over the efforts of others takes no effort at all. But choosing to get our hands dirty; choosing to actually attempt something new or come up with a new idea—that is hard. It requires a willingness to risk and, yes, a willingness to fail. The critic never puts themselves in this position of vulnerability.

This reminds of another speech by Theodore Roosevelt, expressing a similar sentiment:

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 better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

I don’t want to be a ‘timid soul’. I don’t want to merely watch and critique what others do. Even if I fail miserably, I’d rather die having tried to make a difference. Who wants to look back on their life with nothing to reflect on other than the critiques of others who actually dared to enter the arena of life?

Apathy is the curse of our age. Sitting back and watching is all too easy.

It’s all very well us sitting in judgment as we watch someone mess up their audition on The Voice, but are we even trying to pursue our own dreams? Do we even have a dream?

Life is meant for living. We are supposed to live for something. Fulfilment doesn’t come from watching what others do; it comes from figuring out our gifts, talents, abilities, and passions—and then giving our all to making something meaningful from them.

Criticising the efforts of others gives us a sense of faux fulfilment. In judging others it makes us feel that we are above them. But it’s a delusion. And it’s a delusion that leads to greater and greater apathy.

Thankfully, with all that said, Anton Ego’s quote didn’t actually end where I stopped it. He went on to add:

But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defence of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, The new needs friends.

So maybe critics aren’t all bad. Perhaps there is a place for the critic after all.

Each of us, when we pursue something new and risky will grapple with fear and loneliness. At times like that, we need a champion; someone who is prepared to stand up for the unknown and not merely defend the status quo. We need a critic—a friend—who is on our side.

What if, when we feel the need to critique—and I’m convinced there is as place for healthy, constructive criticism—we saw our role as becoming a friend to the person daring to pursue their dream?

Imagine a world where, instead of tearing people down from a distance, we come alongside those who are prepared to risk everything in pursuit of their dreams and support, encourage, and lovingly guide them.

That’s the kind of world I want to live in.

As humans, we are all meant to be dreamers and visionaries. We all need to find our place in this world, discover our talents, and then put them towards something meaningful and good that’ll make the world a better place. Let’s not settle for criticising the efforts of others; let’s pursue our own dreams while also being people who befriend and support others who are daring to pursue their dreams.

Do we want an easy life or a meaningful one?

I may not see all my dreams come true, but I’d rather have those dreams and pursue those dreams than spend most of my life only talking about what others are doing.

I want to be in the arena; I want to be making things happen—even if it ends up being an ‘average piece of junk’.

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