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Armchair critics

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It’s easy to yell gratuitous advice to those on the field of play when you are standing on the sidelines. It’s much harder, however, when you are in the thick of things, trying to do your best. As a society, we are quick to criticise but slow to praise and seem to delight in finding fault with others.

In the game of life, many of us have become armchair critics. We readily assume the role of self-appointed judges when watching Olympic athletes perform or listening to entertainers belt out a song on The Voice. Yet we could not do what they do, and there are myriad examples of this double standard.

Around the world, it has become a national sport to hate politicians. Yet few of us could stand the heat of being under such constant scrutiny in both our public and private lives. The number and complexity of the problems our political leaders face daily would cause most of us to buckle under the strain.

I am not an apologist for politicians who are inept or corrupt. However, I do believe that we have unrealistic expectations of what they are able to deliver. Politicians are not miracle workers who have the power to solve all of society’s ills, but many in the electorate erroneously believe otherwise.

But politicians themselves are also guilty of having two sets of rules. While governments admonish the business sector if it fails to improve productivity, ministers claim that their own departments can’t be subjected to robust productivity benchmarks as back-office public sector outputs are purportedly difficult to measure.

In our digital world, it seems that everyone has become a critic. The Internet has spawned a new age of amateur criticism and given rise to ill-informed kitchen-counter “experts”. These keyword warriors sit behind their computer screens and throw barbs at others, but rarely provide solutions.

I would have thought that before you offer advice, you must be qualified to give it. How many of us would take fitness guidance from a coach who was morbidly obese? A valuable critic is someone whose judgment is informed and from which you can learn.

In this regard, experience is the teacher. Life has taught me that practice invariably trumps theory. Knowing something is one thing, but actually being able to do it is quite another thing. Those who have spent time in the trenches know how the real world operates. An example will help here.

Some years ago, a European communications industry regulator was appointed the CEO of a local company. Shortly after he took up his appointment as CEO, he publicly admitted how much harder it was on the ground running a company than being an ivory tower regulator overseeing from afar what the company was doing.

Regulation is an inescapable part of doing business. Around the world and across industries, regulators are rule-makers and enforcers that set the parameters within which business must operate. But if you have never worked at the coal face of business yourself, don’t you risk being labelled an armchair critic?

I learned at an early age that life is made up of spectators and players – those who judge and those who have a go. Spectators sit in the safety and anonymity of life’s grandstand where they boo and hiss. They pass judgment but never actually pull on a jersey themselves and have a go.

Players, on the other hand, are the people who roll up their sleeves and give it their all. They don’t always cross the line and score when they get the ball. However, they do experience the joy of participating and striving to overcome the odds to become a winner.

In the game of life, a player acts to achieve a desired outcome. A spectator, in contrast, is at the mercy of choices others make. I’ve always been a player and not a bench warmer. I know that life is not a spectator sport. I want to have a stake in life and not watch it go by.

Regrettably, there will always be those who seek to tear players down, but in the words of President Theodore Roosevelt:

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 them 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 … because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in 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 fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Ironically, the loudest voices in society tend to belong to those who are not in the arena.

Paul J. Thomas, CEO


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CEO Paul Thomas