Criticism: Ouch and Affirmation

“Criticism, as it was first instituted by Aristotle, was meant as a standard of judging well; the chiefest part of which is to observe those excellencies which delight a reasonable reader.” –John Dryden

“The secret source of humor is not joy but sorrow.”
–Mark Twain

Criticism can hurt.  Even I, aggravatingly self assured as I might be, can feel stung by certain criticisms depending on the content and who is doing the criticizing.  And my family is even more vulnerable, being more concerned about what people think.

It is painful when criticisms are valid, requiring revision or improvement… but they can be purely insufferable when unfounded and untrue.  A few exchanges in the social media world recently brought that fact home for us here.

“One knows one’s weak points so well, that it’s rather bewildering to have the critics overlook them and invent others.”
 –Edith Wharton (1862-1937)

On the other hand, I confess I tend to miss criticism in its absence, worrying that I’m not having sufficient effect, not stretching my readers or challenging my students sufficiently, if we don’t at least inspire some heated dialog or angry diatribe, if we don’t say things that result in a few telltale fits of denial, unbalance some accepted notions and elicit umbrage, and garner a modicum of complaints.  And I don’t feel I’m expanding my depth and reach and unless such responses are on the increase.  I felt satisfaction in the fact that government agents once attended all my Deep Ecology Medicine Show concerts, affirming the significance of the motley civil disobedience actions that often followed my performances… and I felt less significant when they could no longer be found among the audience, apparently no longer considering my rabble rousing and healing work to be a viable threat to their paradigm of destruction.

I remember a forest activist friend once telling me that “being criticized or attacked is often a sign you’re seen as having an impact and influence.”  I can of course cite plenty of examples of powerless and anonymous people around the globe – from South American tribespeople to European Roma and West Bank Palestinians – who are the constant subjects of derision and injustices.  It is nonetheless true that envy and spite tend to infuse and confuse, embolden and embitter criticism of any high visibility accomplishment.

With Plant Healer Magazine, we are likely extra sensitive, having gone to such efforts to make it exemplary and yet accessible to all, casting a broad and inclusive tent, giving so many of our finite mortal hours to creating it with no certainty of success or income, and thereby making it in part our gift to the world.  And yet still, we actively sought creative feedback and criticism, in order to test its effects.  For over a year we got nothing but comments that were often too darn sweetly complimentary to quote, as we continued seeking the signs of ecstasy and aggravation that might help us measure Plant Healer’s vitality and effects.

Now at long last, we find we have earned our first criticisms, the worst being that we are the establishment media!

“Criticism is prejudice made plausible.” –H. L. Mencken (1880-1956)

“The critic is not the antagonist so much as the rival of the author… How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct.” –Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)

Plant Healer Magazine has indeed had an amazing growth spurt, as a voice and champion of the practice and culture of folk herbalism.  But we would have been happy for it to be read by only a wild fringe of outlaw herbalists and outliers, visionary scientist oddballs and spunky kitchen medicine makers, and have been surprised at the range and numbers of subscribers.  It’s true that it’s become the most talked about herbal publication, but the establishment?  With our diverse and insurgent community?

Ouch! That one actually hurt the old revolutionary in me, no doubt about it.  And if such an absurd accusation remains the strongest criticism anyone can muster, I’d say we’re still not nearly unconventional, challenging, controversial, irreverent or outrageous enough.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the [person] who points out how the strong stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the [one] who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, 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 he fails while daring greatly. So that his [or her!] place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” –Theodore Roosevelt

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