“Criticism comes easier than craftsmanship” (Zeuxis).
IF WE HAVE TO ADMIT THAT WE SPEND MORE TIME CRITIQUING THE WORK OF OTHERS THAN WE DO IMPROVING OUR OWN CRAFTSMANSHIP, THAT’S NOT A GOOD THING. Most of the worthwhile things that human beings are called upon to do require some skill and ability. It’s a fact that other people often fail to do their work as skillfully and ably as might be expected, but even so, pointing out that fact is rarely the most productive thing we could be doing with our time. Sharpening our own skills is usually the better choice.
If the word “pride” can ever be used in a good sense, it’s probably in the phrase “pride of workmanship.” Pride of workmanship is the pleasure that the craftsman has when he finishes a piece of work and knows that it’s the very best he can do. It’s one of life’s best feelings, actually. And it’s sad that so few people ever experience it.
The quality of our craftsmanship could certainly be improved in the many specific things we do — our work, our hobbies, our community involvement, and so forth — but there is an even more important sense in which we are practicing a craft. A human life as a whole is a thing that has to be made or created. In an overall sense, we are each “building” something that will eventually be finished. Whether the finished product will be one we can feel good about depends, to a large extent, on how active we are in improving our craftsmanship.
As we give ourselves to our family and friends and coworkers, it’s a gratifying thing to know that we’re giving them the very best handiwork we’re capable of producing. Surely, some of our peers are people who mean so much to us that we wouldn’t ever want to give them anything but our best. But in truth, there is no one we’ll ever meet who doesn’t deserve the best that we can offer them.
And so let’s aspire to being people who know how to craft a human life that’s worthy of appreciation. It’s a daunting challenge, without a doubt, and it will consume vast reserves of both patience and diligence. But crafting an honorable life is not impossible.
“If a great thing can be done at all, it can be done easily. But it is that kind of ease with which a tree blossoms after long years of gathering strength” (John Ruskin).