“Criticize by creating.” – Michelangelo

There are several variations of the above saying, attributed to Renaissance artist Michelangelo Buonarroti. One is, “I criticize by creating something beautiful.” The Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero said, “I criticize by creation, not by finding fault.” Finnish composer Jean Sibelius said, “Pay no attention to what the critics say. A statue has never been erected in honor of a critic.”

Relatively speaking, it’s easier to criticize, find fault with, or point out the error of another’s ways. And while criticisms are sometimes warranted, often they are simply the deification of one person’s subjective opinions. Far, far more difficult is to actually improve something, to bring about renewal, to infuse with life that which has grown stale or dull. Far more difficult still is to create something of self-evident beauty, value, or utility.

It’s one thing to harangue Hollywood for shows and movies that are deemed unsavory and unhealthy for our society. It’s quite another to create and produce shows and movies that are uplifting, inspiring, and ennobling. It is one thing to criticize the political system and its leaders as inept or corrupt. It’s something else to enter the fray and try to be part of a solution to the numerous challenges facing our world.  And don’t even get me started on Monday morning quarterbacks!

There’s nothing wrong with constructive criticism offered amidst the open exchange of ideas. But so much of what we hear these days is long on criticism and short on construction. Two other responses to challenges in our world include indifference and cynicism. Indifference shrugs its shoulders and says, “This is way too big for me; there’s nothing I can do about this.” And while cynicism may be a fashionable pose to strike, it ultimately is far less constructive than whatever it purports to denounce.

I’m reflecting this year-end on several in our church family who just this year, have lit candles rather than curse the darkness. In early August, Jadyn deBruyn, a high school senior, visited School On Wheels, a nonprofit tutoring center for homeless children on Skid Row in Los Angeles. Energized by what she saw there, she came home, organized a school supply drive at our church, and inspired all of us to make a difference.  This fall, Audrey Charles, a fourth grader, learned about the ministry of Shelter Care Resources, a Ventura County non-profit that provides support to foster families. Then she invited and inspired us as her church family to share boxes of diapers that will bless foster babies in Ventura county.

So the next time you’re tempted to speak critically, ask yourself this question: “How would you do it better?”