“It is not the critic who counts.” These are the first words of my favorite speech. I don’t remember when I first came across it, but I connected with it immediately. I loved the words - I felt the words.
But here’s the thing - I have been the critic more times than I have been the criticized. I’ve been the one pointing out the stumbles of another, pointing out how the “doer of deeds” could have done them better. I have been sitting in the stands or on the sidelines while others poured their hearts out, dripping in sweat, and I have called attention to their mistakes (or what I perceived to be mistakes.)
As one of them, or at least formerly one of them, I want to share a few things you should know about critics if you are in the arena.
THEY MOSTLY DON’T KNOW THEY ARE EVEN DOING IT
As a recovering critic, looking back on my old self who loved Teddy’s speech, I was baffled. How I could connect so deeply with these words about the man in the arena, while at the same time my heart was overflowing with criticism for everyone around me? How could I champion the doer of deeds, while at the same time scanning the work of others for flaws and making no effort to keep my observations to myself?
How could I be such a hypocrite?
It was because I had no idea I was doing it. And neither do most of the people criticizing you.
The negative comment - the one picking apart an obscure part of the essay you poured your heart into? That person probably isn’t intentionally attacking your art - they are acting out of habit, out of compulsion.
They have so practiced and honed the muscle of speaking or writing out a correction to everything in which they see the hint of a flaw that it is as natural as breathing.
The concept of remaining silent when there is the potential to critique is completely foreign.
But you, friend - writer, artist, creator - man or woman in the arena - you can remain silent in the face of the critic.
THEY AREN’T DOING ANYTHING
The me who found something in EVERYTHING to criticize? She wasn’t doing anything. She wasn’t chasing after God with everything. She wasn’t laying her whole life down daily and seeking to love God and love others and unclench her little fists. She wasn’t creating like she was made to create, she wasn’t sharing like she was made to share - she wasn’t doing anything.
She had time to scan the work of others for flaws because she wasn’t occupied with her own work.
She had no compassion for the mistakes of others. She had no grace for differences in opinion or perspective. She had no appreciation for the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the things she criticized. She didn’t have these things - compassion, grace, appreciation - because she wasn’t in the arena.
Most of those people criticizing you have never tasted the dust of the arena. One day, hopefully, they will join. One day, hopefully, they will smile at you from across the battle - and they won’t be checking to make sure you’re holding your sword properly, they will be flashing you a look of encouragement. If they correct at all it will be with the distinct purpose of helping you win your fight.
See them as people who will one day join you in the arena. See me from the past when you look at them - see someone who badly wants to be in the arena, someone who intensely relates to you out there, creating and bleeding and sweating, someone who just hasn’t yet found the courage to join you.
THEY DON’T COUNT
They count in the sense that they are valuable human beings who God loves, but their criticism does not get a voice. They don’t get to weigh you down with their words. They don’t get to hold their measuring stick up against your work.
Brene Brown, who made the Man in the Arena speech famous for our generation, says she keeps a list of people with her. It is a list of people whose opinions matter in her life - a list of the people who count. It is important to have a variety of trusted voices who have permission to speak into your life, but these names will easily fit on a single sheet of paper. The random critics - sitting in the stands, watching you bleed and sweat, and then criticizing the way you hold a sword? They do not count.
Do not stop to weigh their words. Do not let their comments distract you from your fight. Do not turn your energy from creation and toward defending.
Don’t get caught up trying to combat their criticism, to convince them, to calm them. If combatting and convincing and calming are necessary - God can handle it.
Your job in the arena is to follow Him, not defend against them. If He leads you to engage with them - great - but let your default be to move past those critical comments without pause.
Because it really is not the critic who counts.
If you have time, watch this <3