I’m one of those soppy sentimental types who had “a football in his throat” and cried when watching Love Story in the early 1970s. I’m the kind of person who enjoyed listening to Herman’s Hermits. I can remember going to the cinema to see Mrs Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter with my brother in 1968 and loving it. I still enjoy listening to No Milk Today, My Sentimental Friend, I’m Henry the Eighth I am, There’s a Kind of Hush, just to name a few of their songs.
Which brings me to the point of this post.
Many years ago I remember reading a book called “Tip On a Dead Crab” by William Murray. Great title, and a pretty good book as well. The thesis behind the title was simple: You took a bunch of crabs with numbers on their backs, put them into a basket, then unloaded the basket near a stake. The crab nearest the stake after a minute was the winner.
Why did I find this fascinating? Because until then I lived with the received wisdom that gamblers wanted to know about guaranteed losers, not winners. A tip on a winner meant nothing; what you wanted was a tip on a loser: a horse that was going to be pulled, a dog that had been nobbled, a team that was going to throw the game.
The theory ran like this: Claiming that something was going to win was worth nothing; everyone would say that. But claiming that something was going to lose, that was different. It was useful information, you could bet on the best of the remainder of the field. If the field only had two in it (like in soccer or boxing) even better.
So the best tips were about losers, not winners. Except when it came to dead crabs.
Sometimes, when I see what’s going on around me, I get the feeling that too many people think that way. That the best tips are about losers. And as a result, everyone’s a critic. What a shame.
Even when I was young, I never really enjoyed criticising people. I was happy to use my feet and vote my feelings that way. If I didn’t like someone I didn’t have to spend time with them. If the food at a restaurant was bad I didn’t have to go there again. If a film wasn’t worth watching I could walk out and not recommend it to anyone.
Now, as I’ve grown older, I fail to see the point in criticising people. We all have beams to cast out of our own eyes before we get involved with the motes in others’ eyes. So why criticise them? Why don’t we build them up instead?
When it comes to reviewing things like books and films and music, why don’t we spend time telling people about the things we liked, rather than spend a great deal of time trashing the things we didn’t like?
It’s easy to criticise. Much harder to say good things. Good things about a person, a novel, a song, whatever. Particularly good things about a person.
We all use phrases like “constructive criticism”, yet too often that translates to “we’re cool about dishing it out but not okay about taking it”.
Of course criticism can be useful, especially when provided constructively and as part of a relationship of trust and openness. In places where trust has broken down, of course there is a place for a different form of criticism: whistleblowing. Of course generalisations are odious.
What would the world be like if we spent time encouraging each other rather than the opposite? Think about it.
You rarely see advertisements that extol the bad things about a product. Ads are about recommendations. This isn’t wrong per se. The wrongness comes from the fact that the recommendation is being made by that which is being recommended in the first place, so there’s a bias.
Endorsements are a little better, but only a little. Tiger Woods may know a lot about golf, but that doesn’t mean I have to trust his brand of consultant.
In the age of television, in a broadcast paradigm, all this was understandable. But in the age of the internet, in a network paradigm, it is no longer so.
We keep getting told that the new world is about recommendations. In a world that revolves around recommendations, the absence of a recommendation is telling. So if you don’t like something or someone, just withhold your recommendation. There is no need to criticise.
I want the people I trust to tell me what’s good, not what’s bad. Telling me what’s bad is easy, everyone does it. The scarcity that I’m prepared to pay for is to be found in the good things, in the people who can tell me about good things.
Take Kirkus Reviews. When it comes to books, I really value their views and comments. But I don’t go looking for the reviews that pan books. Instead, I spend time searching for the books they recommend, particularly those that receive “starred reviews”.
Take Christianity. The etymology for “evangelism” is about sharing good news, not bad.
I want to know about the plumber who turned up on time and did the job well, the restaurant that dazzled, the song that made hearts sing, the book that couldn’t be put down, the film that was spellbinding.
I want to know what’s good, not what’s bad. In the age of advertising, the brand was meant to do this. In the age of the internet, the personal microbrand (as I’ve heard Hugh describe it) can do this, but only if it is made up of unbiased recommendations.
There’s a lot of noise out there. There’s an abundance of gossip, of opinion, weighted towards the bad. Who’s bad. What’s bad.
In the early days of the Web, everyone used the tool to talk about the bad. Criticising, ranting, flaming, outing. Whatever.
More and more I tune out the bad stuff. I’m interested in the good. Life’s too short.
[And if you feel like, you can criticise this post and call me Utopian or whatever :-)]
Update: I just love Gapingvoid’s latest print-to-be: Ordered it straightaway. Why? Because I’m into Something Good.