We are quickly devolving into a nation of uninformed critics, satisfied to slouch in our armchairs and hurl nonstop invectives at our television screens. Politicians? Idiots. Corporate executives? Morons. Football coaches? Clueless. Product developers? Out to lunch. The more remarkable problem is that those who so easily dismiss the difficult daily actions and lifelong commitment of so many “doers” in our society have never spent one minute of their own lives trying to accomplish the same activity. With just over half of the population turning out for the last national election, few even find it important enough to choose those best qualified to serve them. Those insisting “anyone could do that” rarely understand that, in fact, very few can, and even fewer try. The critics ultimately resemble Civil War reenactors, comfortably enjoying the spectacle and pageantry of the fight, but without a passion for the cause or the danger of the bullet.
In a recent heated late-night email exchange between Apple CEO Steve Jobs and writer Ryan Tate of gawker.com, Tate leveled withering criticism at Apple, their products, and philosophies. Jobs suddenly changed the tenor of the conversation by pointedly asking, “By the way, what have you done that’s so great? Do you create anything, or just criticize others work and belittle their motivations?” Tate’s non-response affirmed Jobs’ conclusion.
It was President Theodore Roosevelt speaking in 1910 at the Sorbonne on “Citizenship in a Republic” who said the following: "It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles 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 up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."
Get off the couch and get involved. Find a problem, no matter how small, and fix it. If you are dissatisfied with anything, start at your most available access point to the problem and go on the attack. If it is bigger than you, go find a friend or two to help. There are innumerable social, economic, and human issues that desperately need attention this very minute. Only if you are willing to commit your personal time and energy to solving a problem do you acquire the knowledge, gain the insight, and earn the right to be a critic of that issue in the future.
Dr. Gary Oster
School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship
Criticism, community involvement, innovation, ideas, participation