Be proud of your grandchild who has rejected your offer to pay for Harvard Law School and is studying to be a critic. There is a lucrative market for gilt-edged criticism because many people want a professional to tell them how to think.

A critic who is remunerated should not be confused with your whining neighbor who never says anything good.

“It’s a nice day.”

“Ugh. I heard we’re expecting a tsunami.”

Most of us would rather take a beating than accept criticism. Countless divorce lawyers could have retired after working only 20 years simply because so many young married folk complained about burned toast or the need of taking a daily shower.

Many of us have enjoyed a long and fruitful marriage only because we never criticize.

When we buy crackers or an automobile, however, we do make a critical evaluation. Often our choices are shaped by the critics who write commercials. Their words encourage us to buy one product and reject another.

You might remember when Arthur Godfrey’s show was sponsored by Lipton’s. Lipton sold different kinds of soup in little packages. You’d buy the little packages, add water and cook it up yourself. Godfrey probably sold more soup than anyone in the country before or since because he told it like it was. He’d look down into a steaming bowl of soup and say, “Plenty of noodles in there.” He’d pause, think about it for a few seconds and then add as an afterthought, “And there’s chicken in there, too. You won’t find it, but it’s there.”

I seem to recall that Lipton’s wanted to drop Godfrey for making fun of their product, but then they discovered that the public loved clever criticism. Lipton had trouble keeping their soup on store shelves and Godfrey was recognized as a marketing genius.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., who was regarded by his peers as the best writer of his day, got many letters from readers and often commented on them. He said, “A writer must make up his mind to the possible rough treatment of the critics, who swarm like bacteria whenever there is any literary material on which they can feed.”

Often a thick skin is not enough to be a critic, for over the ages skins of critics were sometimes punctured by knives.

Although Mark Twain criticized almost everything, it was his cigars that probably killed him. Not taken in by the fashionable xenophobia of his time, he criticized the public’s fear and dislike of Irish and Chinese immigrants. You might remember his story of the little boy who saw adults throwing stones at Chinese men. He felt that God wouldn’t love him if he didn’t throw stones at Chinese men, so he threw stones at them, too. Much as the Muslim and people-of-color scare infects our age, it was the influx of Chinese immigrants in California that raised redneck hackles in Twain’s day.

The older you get, the easier it is to criticize everything. Skirts and hair are either too short or too long. Does a ring in the nose enhance female pulchritude? Why do grossly obese people eat junk food? Paying for their sickness drives up my health care premiums. Old dubbers on the highway either creep along in their campers or crazy young fools ride up on my bumper, then pass me with an ear-splitting roar.

Today it is even more fun to be a critic because 150 years ago, unless you were published, the only people who heard you were those you criticized face to face. Today, with Facebook, the five or 10 people who turn to your page every morning can tell just how much pain you have in your left hip by the amount of vituperation you spew out on the world.

Gladys and Doris were astute social critics. I admired them for their perceptive wit. Gladys was over 80. Doris was 95. They had seen much and forgotten nothing. They knew how to criticize without offending: Both were masters of tongue-in-cheek commentary. When I mentioned to Gladys that the teenage daughters of my wife, Marsha, were coming home from college for spring break, she said, “Oh, that’s wonderful. They’ll be such a help to her around the house.”

I once told Doris of my great-uncle who played clarinet at dances back around 1905. His young bride was annoyed because at midnight, after the dances, he had a habit of walking home with the girls. Doris said, “How nice of him. He wanted to make sure they got home safely.”

Dispensing good criticism is an art. Young people wanting to succeed in the genre should know that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

The humble Farmer can be heard Friday nights at 7 on WHPW (97.3 FM) and visited at his website: MainePrivateRadio.html

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