Bex and I are fifteen feet from the bandstand, waiting for one of our favorite musicians to take the stage. A sizable crowd has congregated on the dry grass around us, and my back hurts from all this standing on unforgiving turf. Beyond the platform, the sun is setting behind clouds that look more like pastel sand dunes than collections of condensed water in the atmosphere.
I’m fidgeting slightly in anticipation, hoping I didn’t waste my money after witnessing the forgettable band that opened the show. I hope this turns out to be a good concert.
Wait. A good concert for whom?
Don’t get me wrong, the opener wasn’t bad: they were well-rehearsed and well-dressed, and they performed with vigor. But there were too many electric guitars (for my taste). The songs were too heavy (for my taste). And the drums were too … umm … drummy (for my taste).
But most of the crowd wholeheartedly enjoyed the opening band, drummy drums and all. I’ve attended at least a hundred concerts in my lifetime, and most of my fondest memories are of discovering gifted opening acts who surprised me with their music, even though much of the crowd was fidgeting for the headliner, so just because I wasn’t entertained by this particular band, that doesn’t give me the right to snarkily critique them. No—if other people took pleasure in their set, then that means it simply wasn’t for me.
And that’s okay.
The same seems to be true in a broader sense as well: my favorite movies, books, and songs are not objectively good or bad, and yet you may not get the same value from them as I do. And that’s okay: if you don’t enjoy them, then they probably aren’t for you—they’re for someone else. So don’t waste your time—let go, move on. But, while you walk away, you needn’t deprive the rest of the crowd by casting shade on the maker of the thing.
Ditto for whatever The Minimalists create: our documentary, our TEDx Talks, our podcast, our books, this blog. As long as Ryan and I can look ourselves in the mirror and honestly say, “We believe this is exceptional; this piece is absolutely the best we could have done given the resources we have,” then we will give ourselves permission to release our creation to the world, warts and all. Millions of people have found value in our body of work, but if you don’t, that’s okay—it isn’t for everybody.
The more you create, the more you will be criticized. And that, too, is okay, because some criticism is helpful, especially when it is solicited from people you trust—evaluators who help build your building taller, stronger, better. This type of criticism is rare, and that’s what makes it precious.
Other criticism, however, is a greater reflection of the critic himself: the trolling, the indignation, the tearing down of buildings—these are all neon signs that say, “This isn’t for me!”
So next time I get ready to feebly condemn someone’s work, perhaps I should ask myself: “Is this objectively bad, or is this just not for me?” If it’s the former, then I must ask, “How can my critique be useful?” Because if my feedback is only veiled venting, then I’ve done nothing but contribute to the recreational outrage I so despise. If it’s the latter, then perhaps I’m best served by keeping my mouth shut and looking for something that is, in fact, for me.
And next time someone criticizes you, consider this: your creation probably isn’t for that critic—it’s for someone else.
Suddenly, a spotlight illuminates the stage, the main act mans their instruments, and I’m back in the moment, buoyed by the increasing roar of the crowd. The music starts, and it’s truly outstanding: we are all singing along off-key to every chorus and begging for an encore when the lights go dark.
This definitely was for me. The opening act wasn’t, though, and that’s okay—sometimes we have to wade through the waters of dislike before we arrive at something we love.
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