The Late Romantic Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius, was oft dismissed as irrelevant by music critics of his day. He was not fond of that and is credited as saying “Pay no attention to what critics say. No statue has ever been put up to a critic.”
A similar statement was made at the council candidates forum. A council candidate stated that whenever one does something, there is never a shortage of critics. But in all his travels around the world, through museums and art galleries and the like, he has yet to see a statue of a critic.
The implication is that being critical leaves one unworthy of memorialization. The statement then is a criticism of critics, making it self-contradictory.
Furthermore, the original context of this quote was regarding artistic critics, significantly different from someone critically evaluating political governance.
This aversion to criticism has permeated this election from the first day I started putting information out there and as the author, I have been labeled critic-in-chief.
As a consequence I have experienced accusations of character assassination, direct and indirect threats of legal action, told to ask God for forgiveness for my “slanderous” writing, and been accused of censorship and then subsequently threatened with a court injunction when I didn’t remove a critical post fast enough (an hour after I removed it).
This is the life of a critic.
Do I regret taking on this role? Not even a little bit. Why?
Because there were other critics out there, on all sides, and it gave them an opportunity to voice their opinions.
But what is a critic? Is being critical a character defect?
There are many definitions of critic but my favourite comes from Merriam-Webster: one who expresses a reasoned opinion on any matter involving a judgment of its value, truth, righteousness, beauty, or technique.
The Greek origin, kritikos, means “to discern or judge”.
Based on that definition, it could be argued that criticism is key to a healthy democracy.
Without criticism, the status quo is never challenged which leads to permanent stagnation.
We teach our children to critically think. It is the underpinning of our education system. Of all they learn through their formative years in public education, if children take nothing away but the ability to critically think, they will be successful in the world.
Why then does this not apply to politics? Is it a terrible thing to hope for critical thinking and political accountability?
And this finally brings us to the statues.
There are in fact statues of critics the world over. And had these brave souls accepted the status quo, put their heads down and did what they’re told, accepted everything they saw and heard at face value, and kept quiet for fear of being labeled a critic, our world would be a very different place and, I would argue, not in a good way.
Abraham Lincoln: A critic of slavery and key proponent of its abolition, he is immortalized in the Lincoln Memorial, a REALLY big statue. Oh and there is a GIANT likeness of his face carved into the side of Mount Rushmore.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: A critic of racial segregation and key figure in the advancement of American civil rights. There is a statue of him.
The Famous Five: Five brave Canadian women who were so critical of an absence of women’s rights, they petitioned the Supreme Court to answer whether “persons” as per the British North America Act included female persons. The case had important ramifications for women’s rights and women’s suffrage. There are statues of them all over Canada.
Sir Thomas More: A harsh critic of the schism of the Catholic church initiated by his king, Henry VIII. He was convicted of treason and beheaded. Not only does he have statues commemorating his life, he is a Saint in the Catholic tradition.
Mahatma Gandhi: A critic of British rule over India. Led a movement of non-violent civil disobedience leading India to independence and inspiring civil rights and freedom movements around the world. More statues.
Nelson Mandela: A vocal critic of apartheid and colonialism in South Africa. For his criticism and activism he was imprisoned for 27 years. He later served as president. Although he still lives, he has already been immortalized in stone.
Whether you are critical of the current leadership, or critical of those who would replace them, you have an opportunity to voice that criticism on the ballot.
And that ballot will be a permanent monument to you.