How to assess other people’s work graciously and fairly.
As Sir Ken Robinson thoughtfully observed, we live in a kind of “opinion culture” where not having an opinion is a cultural abomination. At the same time, the barrier of entry for making one’s opinions public is lower than ever. The tragedy of our time might well be that so many choose to set those opinions apart by making them as contrarian and abrasive as possible. But what E. B. White once wisely pointed to as the role and social responsibility of the writer—”to lift people up, not lower them down”—I believe to be true of the role and social responsibility of the critic as well, for thoughtful criticism is itself an art and a creative act.
We need to relearn the skills of making criticism constructive rather than destructive, and we need look no further than the introduction to John Updike‘s 1977 anthology of prose, Picked-Up Pieces, where the beloved author and critic codifies the ethics and poetics of criticism by offering the following six rules to reviewing graciously and fairly.