Addition > Subtraction
What do you actually like? It can be a difficult and frightening question to answer, depending how who’s asking. It’s scary to put your heart on your sleeve sometimes. Think of the common question, “What kind of music do you like?” “Anything but country,” is a response most of us have heard many times, and maybe even uttered ourselves. An answer like that tells us one of two things about a person and their musical tastes: either a) as much as they may love all kinds of music, what’s more important to them is making it clear that they absolutely do not like country music; or b) that while they may not be comfortable praising one particular type of music, they are comfortable deriding another. So we might walk away from that person knowing nothing more than their disdain for a broadly categorized type of music.
We tend to place a high value on the ability to think critically in our society. Particularly with regards to politics, influential figures and companies—critical thinking is integral to holding them accountable. We should be able to question important matters when we feel like we or others are being wronged or mislead. What about in our daily lives, though? How much value is there in being critical? A quick Google search yields this definition of the word:
critical: expressing adverse or disapproving comments or judgments.
Negative, right? A critic seeks to take away. They tell you what they don’t like, maybe specifically, or maybe just generally. They subtract merit. What if there was a word that was not quite the opposite of “critical,” but a word that came from a more positive place.
discerning: having or showing good judgement.
“Discerning,” a sort of cousin to “critical,” lands closer to the positive, agreed? While the critical person might tell you they “like all types of music but country,” the discerning person is more likely to tell you they “love Jazz music, and have you heard Kamasi Washington before?” The discerning person is going to add and they’re going to multiply. What we should focus on more is our discernment, our ability to judge well. That practice is far more likely to generate more happiness through the act of sharing our tastes as well as putting others on to something that they might like and respect.
It’s easy to sit around and find faults, share dislikes. It’s not necessarily harder to find positives and share likes, but it requires more confidence. That said, it should be easier than ever to extol the virtues of things we like. In our self-curated world, why focus at all on things we don’t like? Why leave negative comments on harmless things? If you’re close-minded, stick to your personal gallery. If you do dare to look outside of your gallery, do so knowing that not everything is made for you. There is more of everything in the world available to us than ever before. If you are going to watch or listen to something that’s outside of your purview, maybe go into it thinking, “If I like this, great, I’ve got something new for my gallery. If I don’t like this, I’ll just move on. Maybe this isn’t really for me right now.”
Are you the person that complains about spots, or lack of spots; or are you the person that makes spots, fixes spots, and finds spots? Are you the person that complains about videos, or the person that makes videos?
To quote the great philosophers Minor Threat:
“You tell me that I make no difference
Well at least I’m fucking trying
What the fuck have you done?”
If you are going to do anything outside of the most rigid and base of social norms, you’re going to get a mixed reaction. At least you are offering something rather than nothing, or worse, just subtracting and dividing. It’s scary though. You might feel vulnerable putting your work or your interests out there. If you’re with good people, thoughtful people, it shouldn’t be scary. Try it. The best people, the creators, the discerning people, they’ll applaud at least your effort, if not your product. Put yourself out there. One positive affirmation from someone you respect is worth more than anything that any amount of detractors can take away from what you’ve done. Forget detractors. Ignore them. Know the difference between “criticism” and “constructive criticism.” If the critics had anything positive to add to the world, they’d spend their time constructing rather than detracting.
On top of all this, remember that your tastes are going to change; and they can change in a variety of ways. There are things out there right now that you might never like, but there are also things out there that you might like next year. Your life changes. Your perspective changes. Hopefully it’s ever-widening. Seek new experiences and let them pile up like a foundation. It’s better than a life in an underground echo chamber.
Be mindful of the fact that truly unique work, the world-altering stuff, is going to be the hardest stuff to dig when it first comes out. It’s going to be hard to process. It’s okay to not have an opinion on things the first time you see, hear, or read them. It’s also okay to change your mind if you can’t always hold your tongue. Be open to trying again, whether it’s the next day, the next week, or the next year. Changes in your perspective, your ever-growing foundation, will allow you to accept and understand more.
You’re going to grow, physically, emotionally, and mentally. All of you. All of us. You may continue to like certain things, and you may grow to detest certain things. You may grow to like certain things that you used to detest. It’s just one of the ways that life ebbs and flows. Don’t fight it. But don’t hold your old self, your future self, or anyone else in contempt for harmless tastes and actions. We come to things when we are ready, and we leave things when we are ready. Sometimes we return, and sometimes we leave it at that. —Jeff Thorburn, editor