Mankind is myriad in its forms. There are the bold, the brave, the meek, the mild, the lonely, the lost, the beloved, the boastful, the humble, the athletic, the academic. I could go on. But like some colossal, invisible Venn diagram, they fall, though inconveniently, into two circles: the Builders, and the Breakers.
To elaborate: there are those whose aim in life is to create, to conjure, or attempt to conjure, gold from base materials; whether that gold takes the form of ideas, food, music, grand architecture or just a home; whether it is modest, whispering in its size and sound, or vertiginous in its scope and achievement. Then there are those who scorn, scoff, belittle, berate, destroy others’ efforts, to justify their own misery, their own failure to either achieve or attempt to achieve. In that sliver between, there are those who want to build, who do build, but who seek to trample those around them as they go, to assure that their tower is the highest, or the only one standing.
This is not an author’s attempt to demonise critics – paid or unpaid – though I do find their occupation a sad and strange one. This goes farther than art, into the social, the political: those who endlessly moan “this country is going to the dogs” because the morning paper has told them so; those who refuse to vote because it “won’t change anything”; those who dismiss anything that doesn’t fit their narrow concept of cool as dire, dross, drivel; those who dismiss the hip as the same; those who demand excellence and then, when it is attained, say “they cannot be that good, they must have cheated”.
These are people who have given up on happiness. Yet they fail to see that happiness is not something that can be pursued and then held aloft like a prize, a gleaming, solid trophy in silver, to be sat on the mantelpiece until dust and death come creeping. It is fleeting, nothing more than Kodak moments – whether they last minutes or years – and sometimes it is the pursuit itself that is the pure joy. Nothing gets changed for the better by sitting, grim, on the sofa and shouting at the television or the paper or typing a self-satisfied, scathing comment into the convenient box on a website and hitting “send”.
We need to chase happiness, hold on to it for as long as we can before it flits from our net, butterfly-like into the distance. Then chase it again down the long, yellow road we have laid ourselves, brick by tricky brick.
We need to build. And let others do the same.