Hearing Voices (part 2): The Voice of the Critic

Theodore got it wrong, and he got it right.

I’m referring to Theodore Roosevelt who said "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 them 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, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in 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 fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

He was wrong when he wrote “It is not the critic who counts.” I know what he meant, and I’ll get to that later, but good critics do count. The word critic comes from the Greek word that means “to judge” or “to make an appraisal.” In terms of tone, that’s neutral. A good critic is someone who can say “I think you can do better in this way.” That’s a gift from God, though it may be painful to hear.

Listening to a good critic requires a deep level of humility. I must be willing to admit that I have areas of my life that need to be better and that I am almost certainly blind to those areas. I need a good critic.

John Mark (read Hearing Voices, part 1 for his story) had left Paul and Barnabas in the middle of a mission trip. Paul may have been overly aggressive in his criticism of John Mark’s decision, but that criticism may have provided for John Mark’s correction and strengthening.

Someone recently sent me a quote from Mike Mason who described a man’s soul as being like a densely populated city, where “nothing new can be built in his heart without something else being torn down.” The good critic can help you see what needs to be torn down.

So, what constitutes a good critic? That’s where Teddy got it right.

When you try anything new, you are stepping into the arena. In the arena you will have opponents who are dedicated to your defeat. Those are not the critics you want to listen to. In the stands you will have critics who rain down upon you insults, laughter, shame, ridicule, distortions, and outright lies. Those are not critics you need to listen to.

The worst critic, of course, is the one you carry into the arena with you. It lives between your ears and is telling you that you have nothing new to contribute, that there are always people who do it better, and that you never were any good at this any way.

The real problem is that we give waaaaayyyyy too much attention to the bad critics. I’ve decided at this stage in my life that I’m only going to listen to people who have been in the arena. That’s a good critic. I’m a lot better at not listening to the critics in the cheap seats. At least I say I am.

The only way to avoid critics, good or bad, is to not enter the arena, and that’s exactly what your bad critics want you to do. Give up. But thankfully, the voice of the critic is not the only voice speaking to you.

There are two other voices. Again, in the business, that’s what we call “a tease.” Come back next week. In the meantime, don’t give up. Listen to someone who can make you better when you reenter the arena.


Dr. Terry Ellis

August 26, 2019