A few years ago, Steve Jobs got into a disagreement with a Gawker blogger, Ryan Tate, who criticized an Apple ad that claimed the iPad was “a revolution.” Mr. Tate argued that the term “revolution” was synonymous with freedom and on that basis, disagreed that the iPad was revolutionary. After an email exchange between the two, Jobs ended the conversation with the words, “Do you create anything or just criticize others and belittle their motivations?” Whatever you think about Apple, Steve Jobs, and this particular incident, that was the perfect question to pose to a critic.
If you’ve ever tried to create anything or tried to be better at something, or if you’ve tried to do something new or different, you’ll know that it comes with critics. Yes, you will hopefully have people who will champion you and your goals but inevitably you will also come across people who will not believe in you, who will have negative attitudes towards your goals, and even when you accomplish things, will find a way to belittle you and your aspirations.
Let’s get something clear: receiving criticism can be a good thing. Growing up, I would have my dad read over my assignments – one of his fields is literature and English – so he was in the best position to give me feedback. Till this day, he is one of my toughest assessors. Granted, my dad is known for being a tough grader and being someone who has always had a knack for school and especially words, he held me to a high standard. His tough assessment, while I didn’t always appreciate it growing up, plays a huge role in my ability to write well in academia.
But criticism isn’t always constructive – sometimes people challenge you because they want to see you fail; they challenge your aspirations because they’re not creating anything themselves so all they have left is to belittle people who are trying to achieve something. I experience this all the time as someone who writes online. When you write online – if you write about anything that matters at all – you leave yourself open to a lot of critics. In anything you do, you will have people who don’t like you and your work and you learn to live with that. But sometimes, it just seems that there are those who have nothing of value to add; they just criticize.
I’ve been told I’m a terrible writer, and that my writing is worthless and insignificant, and that I wouldn’t ever make a difference because of it. Most times, I have let those words slide because I make it a point not to take a lot of things personally. But on bad days, I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t hurt to hear words like that. And maybe it only hurt because I wondered if they were right – that my endeavors would just amount to nothing. That I, would amount to nothing.
But hearing questions like the one Steve Jobs posed is comforting because it makes you realize that when you try to create, there will be those who try to destroy, and maybe that’s your first sign that you’re doing something right. But the question is also challenging to all of us because maybe you and I might behave like Ryan Tate from time to time. It’s easy to portray ourselves as victims; in situations like this, none of us want to be the criminals. But before we criticize, I think it’s worth it to question if we are doing anything worthwhile; it’s worth it to ask ourselves if we are doing something significant or simply putting down those who are tying to.
One thing is clear: statues might be built of Steve Jobs some day if they aren’t already. But I think we’d be hard pressed to find one of Mr. Tate. As Jean Sibelius said, “A statue has never been erected in honor of a critic.” And maybe your goal in life is not to have a statue in your honor anyway but if all you do is criticize and you don’t create, if all you do is belittle and you don’t build up, rest assured that no matter how big a failure the person who tries might turn out to be, they’ll still be a thousand times better off than anyone who doesn’t try at all.