Once a brother came to Abba Theodore of Pherme, and spent three days asking him for a word. But the Abba did not answer, and he went away sadly. So Abba Theodore’s disciple asked him: “Abba, why did you not speak to him? Look he has gone away sad.” And the old man said: “Believe me, I said nothing to him because his business is getting credit by retailing what others have said to him.”
This seems to me like a good place to begin—a reminder that nothing ought to be done for show. I hope that this blog never degenerates into that. However, I am keenly aware that such a temptation lies in any publishing, even (and perhaps especially) self-publishing. But what, after all, is wrong with doing things for show?
I recently graduated, possibly for the last time but I cannot say that for certain. This was the end of many years of school. Education can be a wonderful thing. I generally love it and promote it. However, while at its best encouraging critical thinking and cultivating talents, it sometimes cannot help but foster a perverse yearning for achievement. How often did I, ever the perfectionist, refine my papers? How much did I love to see an “A” at the top, an affirmation that the time and care I put into the project was noticed and appreciated? This is not to say that I was always a poor sport about less-than-stellar grades, but I know that I loved the A’s. While there is nothing wrong with yearning for success or trying to put forth my best effort and reach the highest mark, there is also something deceptive about it.
For every A, students receive compliments for a job well done. What they don’t (typically) receive is far more valuable: criticism. I do not intend this post to be an apologia for the professor who never gives A’s on principle but rather simply to point out that A’s actually, in a way, are devoid of content. They do not, generally, tell us how we can improve. They can give us the impression that we have already arrived. But is there ever anyone, even an expert of a particular field, who has nothing more to learn? As Epictetus said, “[I]t is impossible for any one to begin to learn what he thinks that he already knows.” Even, I would add, the person who truly knows quite a lot.
Hopefully, in the future, I will learn to yearn for criticism and fear the false contentment of compliments. How much better is it for someone to point out what I don’t know than to praise me for what little I do know? What a gift! It ought to be received with gratitude, but my gut so often pushes me toward resentment. Lord have mercy. One day—and one criticism—at a time.