By Derek Magill
The following article is excerpted from the Voice & Exit Manifesto, Criticize by Creating: A Guide for Idealists, Innovators and Entrepreneurs. You can download the entire guide for free at the end of the article.
Go Forward With Optimism
There is nothing more infectious than a positive outlook.
If you find yourself stewing in the poisons of negativity and pessimism, search for the antidote first. You know that person who always brings people down when they’re around? Maybe he’s a perpetual critic? Or have you ever had a fun friend who was going through a breakup or a rough time? None of these characters is necessarily a bad person. But they can be particularly ineffective when it comes to group dynamics. They’re downers. It’s no different for social dynamics. And their mien is not what movements are made of. Optimism is way more powerful and we have to seize it.
At Voice & Exit we have a simple way of looking at the world. It’s our system of priority, which we represent as concentric circles. If you abandon these priorities, it’s not going to work. The priorities are as follows: Self, Community, and World. In that order. There are no shortcuts.
You have to attend to Self first whether in mind, body, or spirit. Some people eat right and exercise. Others medi- tate or pray. Others still practice personal improvement on any number of dimensions. Whatever you do to work on Self, it’s the first step to flourishing.
Once you have found balance and relative well-being in your life, then you can start on a path to helping improve the community around you. This may start with family, friends and coworkers and extend outward from there. You’re looking for ways to improve the lives of people who are special to you, or in whose circles you move in. By doing so you have the intimate knowledge required to consider their needs. And because you attend to the needs of the Self, you can help others improve, too, if but by being an example.
You have taken a step on a path to self-mastery. You have begun to see your community through the lens of well- being. Now, in the process of doing both, you just might have stumbled upon a human universal, that is, a way you can help improve the lives of millions of people.
“We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves,” wrote Joseph Campbell. “But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.”
Criticize by Creating
In the spirit of optimism, I’d like to to suggest that criticism can be healthy in small doses, but not by itself. One who only criticizes is a particularly unhelpful sort because he draws attention to the shortcomings of some arrangement but has nothing to offer as a replacement. In other words, he either gives us no alternatives or defaults to some abstract principle that doesn’t readily connect to the lives of those he’s criticizing. That’s why the most effective form of criticism is one who can show the way to something better. As the great master Michelangelo is supposed to have said, “Criticize by creating.”
Criticism through creation is fundamentally transpartisan and transpolitical. This may be disappointing for those who work in public policy, politics, or political advocacy. And again, maybe someone has to do this sort of stuff. But those who live the Voice & Exit ethos are interested in something pretty different. They’re not looking for Utopias to force onto others; nor are they likely to be interested in participating in the white paper-industrial complex of academia and capitals. They’re looking to build radical new communities into which to invite others. They’re looking for new social designs, human architectures, and social operating systems that can balance a number of different conceptions of the good. And they’re looking for ways to help all of us innovate our way to a more peaceful and prosperous world.
Criticism through creation is a kind of DIY outlook. And while we might readily acknowledge that big changes should affect the rules that peoples around the world have to live under, we suggest that the best way to change the rules is to advise people of al- ternatives that demonstrate that their current rules might be obsolete. It’s a nonlinear way of thinking. But linear thinking has given us ceaseless arguing, entrenched interests, gridlock, war and partisan rancor. We don’t need fighting.
We need an army of optimistic innovators.
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