I want to share something with everyone that has been a source of irritation for me for quite some time. Critics. People who seem to have nothing to offer but their critical opinion. But, before I get to my point, let me share with you a quote from our 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt. This is taken from a speech he delivered in Paris, France at the Sorbonne in 1910. “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best know achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
I am amazed by the tendency of some people who want to criticize others who are making those efforts to improve their lives and the lives of others, the ones who are in the arena, taking chances, making investments of their time, energy and their money, but it seems at every turn they’re being criticized by those sitting on the sideline watching…just watching…doing nothing and risking nothing. One of the unfortunate consequences of facing constant criticism is that we sometimes allow the criticism to slowly begin to shape our lives. I mean… I don’t think we do it consciously, but, over time we begin to absorb it into ourselves.
I’ve noticed something about myself over the years. The older I get, the less attention I pay to what people think and say, especially about me. I’ve reached a point where I couldn’t care less about what people say about me. I notice what they do…how they live, but I pay very little attention to what they say. Some folks believe that the words that people say tells you who they are. Not me. I live the “Great-Grandma rule”…”what you’re doing is making so much noise, I can’t hear a word you’re saying.” I think life validates words not the other way around. Words are empty until battle-tested in the world of experience. And I have little or no use for those who withdraw from the world and yet issue instructions on how to live in it. Simply put, if you don’t play the game, you don’t know enough to make the rules. Strong words? Oh, yes, and I feel them deeply.
The critic has the right to say whatever they want to say, but not at the expense of your dreams and visions for accomplishment. I think that even those so-called well-intended criticisms are couched in nothing more than petty jealousy and feelings of insecurity. The message is clear, how dare you think you can move out, how dare you think you can move ahead. How dare you! I say let them say whatever they want to say, but don’t take it to heart. Here is the way I deal with criticism, unless the person knows me well and I respect that person’s opinion, it’s completely meaningless to me. I take it the same way I take their praise….if they don’t know me…it’s meaningless. My driving force is my vision, my dreams.
I’m reminded of a poem that has saved my life quite a few times. It’s simply entitled “Boldness”. “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: THAT THE MOMENT ONE DEFINITELY COMMITS ONESELF, THEN PROVIDENCE MOVES TOO. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issue from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.” So, I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets” “WHATEVER YOU CAN DO, OR DREAM YOU CAN, BEGIN IT. BOLDNESS HAS GENIUS, POWER AND MAGIC IN IT.” It has removed me from the influence of the critics and put me on the side of the Angels. Maybe it will work for you in the same manner.
Imagine this. You have a large bucket of crabs. One day one of the crabs decide to make a leap for the lip of the bucket in an effort to escape. What is he now? He’s a traitor! He’s decided to leave the others behind and get out! There’s no greater offense to those left behind in the bucket. And so it is with us. So many of us have these little unspoken agreements with family members or friends that we’ll all just stay here where we are, being overweight, underemployed or whatever. Well, when one decides to open their own business or loose the weight and get healthy or write a book, then the critics cut loose. Are you crazy? You’ll fail! You’ll waste your money. You’ve become a traitor to the cause. They say you’ve changed…they don’t even know who you are anymore.
There is little question that today’s conventional wisdom is different than in the day of Teddy Roosevelt. Today, the way to get along is to go along and that’s how most people handle it, you know, political correctness and all that. However, at this point I’m not so sure that the values of my generation and a earlier age at the time of Teddy Roosevelt just may have been the right stance to take.
And to the critics who respond that they have all this knowledge and understanding of how they think things should work, I say to you; knowledge and understanding is not enough…one must also do. To gain from the world and not give back is one of the great tragedies of life. Shame on you! And as my Great-Grandma would say, “don’t tell me what to do if you ain’t doing nothin'”
Copyright Mack Newton. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form without the expressed written consent of the author.