critic or carper?

We are all critics. Some people like to pick apart movies, assess the quality of meals, or ponder the beauties and flaws of pieces of art. Some people have a tendency to universally approve of everything, and others the inclination to disapprove. You will never meet a person with no opinions on anything. And if you have, they're probably hiding something. Or you haven't actually been able to communicate with them.

What interests me is the nature of the highly critical individuals, particularly those with the tendency to disapprove or find fault. It seems common that being highly critical in this fashion is a cool, intellectual, highly-informed thing to do. Skepticism is in. And if you're being critical of other critics, then you must be way super rad. But it is not in an attempt to be way super rad that I write this. I make a lot of judgments myself, so this is just as much a reflection on my own psyche as it is on those of others.

My biggest question is what do we gain from negatively critical of things? Books, food, art--there is so much to approve of, why bother tearing down things? It doesn't seem like it's worth the time. I could see people trying to get an in with someone or some group by having equal levels of criticality--this happens all the time--but why not share things you enjoy instead? Unless everything is beneath you, of course.

Of particular interest is the inclination to criticize other people: they way they look or dress, the way they act and speak, and their mindsets. From this comes the organization of more-cynical-than-thou cliques that permeate society. How many times has a bond been formed with another person over criticizing someone? Sure, criticizing non-human things forms a bond, but confiding to a friend, "I really think that Suzy doesn't know as much as she pretends to know" is a socially charged statement and begs for an alliance not only with the speaker, but with the speaker against another holder of opinions. Alliances are made, a line is drawn. Us vs. Suzy.

On the other side of the room, Suzy may be telling everybody how prestigious her research is. We might be justified in taking an alliance against her. She's arrogant and puts down those around her. But when she goes home that night, maybe she cries because she doesn't feel a connection with anyone. She's lonely. Maybe if we talked to her instead of about her, she'd move past her facade and be interesting. By no means am I saying that all arrogant people are really lonely inside. Or that everyone's faults go away upon closer acquaintance. My point is that we always have a small clip of the picture, and that people tend to get better if you not only get to know them more, but give them room to make mistakes. I'm sure not perfect.

So that's one social example. But what if somebody is truly taking advantage of me? When does it become okay or even good to criticize others? I've surely improved my own character by watching the mistakes of others. If I had universally approved of everyone, I'd probably be pretty boring, if not unpleasant to be around. So where is the line? I'd argue that it's hatred. It's okay to realize that your friends make mistakes, and what the causes of those mistakes are. It's okay to think "I'd never do that." But when contempt starts to wiggle its way into my heart, I know something is wrong.

Then comes the question of once the opinions are held, what do we do with them? If I keep thinking the Suzy is arrogant and don't tell anyone, I might fester. If I tell someone, I might negatively impact their views of Suzy, or even of myself. Sure, I could write it down, but that isn't very satisfying and it's potentially dangerous. Unless I light the paper on fire afterwards. To this I have no answer but to trust in an individual's judgment.

I could argue that actions are only bad when they harm someone, but that is not a clear line, because some forms of hurt help overall. Suzy probably wouldn't like to hear that she's arrogant, but even if it hurt her a lot, she might end up correcting her behavior. Or she could be thrown into a depression. Is it in my realm of responsibility to determine what is good for her? Again, it comes down to judging case-by-case.

The only thing that I can actually conclude is that loving and trying to understand people is the best path, at least for me.

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