Armchair Critics

People who watch anything as fans have lots of opinions. Football, hockey, fashion design, architecture, movies, TV, theater, music, singing. If you find a fan, you will find an opinion, sometimes several opinions, sometimes very strong opinions.

If you have done the activity that you are watching, you might surmise how easy or difficult it is to do, but if you have only “dabbled” at it, you might underestimate the amount of energy it takes to be a master. By definition, a master is someone who has complete control over an activity. It can be assumed that the mastery was achieved through a great deal of effort, dedication, perserverence, study, trial and error and courage.

Opera fans are known to be very avid in their tastes.  It’s quite easy for one of them to say that Callas didn’t have a very pretty voice or that Sutherland couldn’t be understood. A fan of old rock, could say that the Beatles were no big deal and that the Stones were overrated. Anyone who has a favorite designer, composer, or movie star, can easily find fault with others that are not to their liking. In America, we have careers based on finding things to criticize. A critic, professionally, is expected by definition to criticize. We don’t call them “unbiased evaluators” do we?

People who aren’t very good at something don’t always know that. It is not unusual for someone to formulate an opinion of his ability based entirely on what he, and only he, thinks. I had a student who thought of herself as being quite skilled and expressive both as a pianist and as a vocalist but the experts with whom she worked (me for voice training and others for performance  training) found her to be exactly the opposite. When the topic was approached as gently and respectfully as possible by the consultants (separately), the student simply brushed off the comments and paid no attention. Eventually, she stopped her studies, something her instructors did not lament, never addressing any of what the people she had consulted had tried to broach. She either assumed they were all wrong, that they weren’t really experts after all and never considered in any way that there was something in those messages that she really needed to hear and acknowledge. Unfortunately, she teaches in both disciplines and I can only cringe to think how her lack of awareness affects her own students.

All of us see through our own lens. It is colored by past experiences, emotional patterns, psychological attitudes and intellectual understanding. Most people don’t know or recognize their own prejudices. It takes a very open person to see the biggest picture.

If someone is a great singer and you are only so-so, if someone is a successful artist and you have not been able to gain recognition, if someone is a spokesperson for a new organization and you are holding up a banner for the institutions that are old and fading, you could find yourself becoming an armchair critic, and perhaps even one who is very strongly opinionated. If someone comes up with an idea that you wish you had thought of first, or if someone gets acknowledgment for accomplishing something that you had hoped to accomplish but didn’t, it might make you quite angry, envious, jealous and vengeful. It would depend on what kind of character you had and how objectively you viewed your accomplishments in light of those by others.

Remember, no one is an island. No one accomplishes things alone. That it takes a village is true. The bigger the village, the faster and better the transformation. One is a very lonely number, indeed. If you are critical of someone or something, and you are alone or nearly alone, that criticism says more about you than what you criticize.

We live in a time when all things are in a state of flux. Some people can see the brave new world and some people are frightened by it. Some people see the unity of life and some people see only themselves and their own opinions. Some people understand that all of us are frail and human, and some people think they are invincible and perfect. Some people will give another person a break, or a lot of breaks, and others will turn their back from the outset.

The proverb he who lives in a glass house shouldn’t throw stones is a good one. If you are an armchair critic, be careful who you criticize and why. Be careful of what you say. Your house is more see-through than you know.

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