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Cold and timid souls

Can't bowl.

Can't bowl.

During the slaughter that was the second cricket Test in India, I made an uncharitable observation on social media about one of Australia's bowlers - that he looked like he was about to cry.

The intimation was that he was a sook, a bit soft, not performing, get 'im out of there!

As happens on social media, my comment was forwarded to one of this bowler's relatives, an obviously well-read chap who directed me to US President Theodore Roosevelt's famous "Man in the Arena" quote from his 1910 Citizenship in a Republic speech.

It's a quote that's since been used by park footy coaches worldwide, as well as Nelson Mandela and Richard Nixon. It's also ended up on the back of many a dunny door when the toilet owner couldn't track down a poster of the Desiderata.

The words resound:

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.

Reading that passage, it struck me the vast majority of us are in fact "cold and timid" souls and, though we also have the right to comment on an Aussie bowler's performance, it's often tinged by an almost subconscious resentment we'll not experience "the triumph of high achievement".

Being part of a group of just 433 men who've represented your country in a sport, probably qualifies as thus.

The more I thought about it, the more it struck me how much of social media and media commentary is simply timid spectators pointing out "where the doer of deeds could have done better".

Reviewers mistake themselves for critics, Googlers for experts, opinion-holders for authorities.

I had a coffee this morning with my little girl - she had a long black - and next to us were a group of men in their 40s making sage pronouncements about the quality of players in their local football team.

"He's a joke", "How shit is he?", "The worst of both worlds" were some of the comments.

I looked at my daughter, then at these men and felt a tiny frisson of recognition, then disappointment, realising how often I've casually said similar about other people's "high achievements".

Sure, playing first grade football, releasing an album or even producing a crap reality TV show doesn't stack up against climbing Everest, encircling Alesia or, even, performing the national anthem at the inauguration of your country's first black President.

But they're achievements nonetheless. 

And while criticism is a worthy component of human discourse, it's really only of value when it is informed, educated and objective.

I actually don't know much about spin bowling except you twist your fingers a bit and try to pitch the ball at the rough outside the batsman's feet.

In other words, my opinion about Xavier Doherty is worthless and I'd like to apologise. I hope you take a bagful in the third Test.

Though, I'd probably keep a hankie handy, just in case.

You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.

65 comments so far

  • Thanks mate. I'll try not to sledge anyone ever again.

    Commenter
    Pooten
    Date and time
    March 14, 2013, 12:32PM
    • "And while criticism is a worthy component of human discourse, it's really only of value when it is informed, educated and objective."

      Big difference between constructive criticism and what is really just an insult. The former can be helpful in one way or another. The latter....not so much.

      Commenter
      Bender
      Date and time
      March 14, 2013, 1:13PM
      • You prepared to go out on a limb here Bender and explain the difference to us proles?

        Commenter
        hired goon
        Date and time
        March 14, 2013, 7:18PM
      • I believe I did explain the difference. One is constructive criticism (itself an easily identifiable term) and the other is an insult (also a pretty easily identifiable term readily understood by just about any intelligent reader). The former can be useful and the latter rarely of much use and this is pretty much self-evident. If you desire further explanation then please ask however, I'm not going to write a detailed essay because I doubt it would add any value to the initial statement.

        But whilst we're on the explanation thing: care to elaborate on your response to JEQP?
        I liked his response to your quip but I believe you have some splaining to do.

        Commenter
        Bender
        Date and time
        March 15, 2013, 10:44AM
      • you've just gone in circles, restating your initial position without elaboration as to what constitutes what, mate.

        Commenter
        hired goon
        Date and time
        March 15, 2013, 12:38PM
      • Well spotted @hired goon! Once @Bender used the terms, 'easily identifiable', and 'self-evident', you just knew he was trying to be a smug fudger!
        If you read Sam's article, its clear to me - criticism will always be in eye of the beholder. The fact that a relative responded to Sam's criticism of Doherty, speaks volumes of how these things are viewed subjectively. That's all they can be. It doesn't matter how many literary heros or historical figures you throw around with gay abandon - it matters not one wit, my old chap.
        Bascially, I think the relative gave Sam pause to reflect, but we all critisise - easier to critisise the professional critics, I guess? Sort of reminds me the old saying, 'some 'do', and the other's teach'.

        Commenter
        davidbru
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        March 15, 2013, 6:57PM
      • There is little difference to social media and the media run by corporation like yourself Sam. Biased to the tilt when you feel the need to and ready to ruin a life when you feel like it just to make money for yourself. Don't feel guilty though. You have to. Everybody else is doing it and you have to put food on the plate.

        Commenter
        Andy
        Date and time
        March 15, 2013, 11:14PM
      • Not sure where this fits in with your frequent diatribes against women Bender.

        Commenter
        Sarah
        Date and time
        March 16, 2013, 6:45AM
    • Love the "Man in the Arena" speech - had it stenciled on the wall of the last place I worked at. It was needed as a reminder to persevere in the face of criticism and seemingly endless challenges. This kind of criticism happens pretty frequently around startups as well. From the financiers who have never started a business themselves or "wantrapreneurs" who often chime in with "That doesn't look hard/I could do that myself/I had that idea but decided it wasn't very good" but have never actually gotten off their ass, quit their cushy job and rolled the dice made out of their own testicles (or ovaries!).

      I think you have to walk in another persons shoes, even just for a moment, before you are really able to credibly pass judgement and what you invariably find when you do, is that you are no longer so quick to judge nor as harsh in your judgements. Starting a business is hard - it doesn't matter whether you found a global technology company or a hairdressing salon. The second you decide to take on the responsibility for funding the week to week existence of another person (their rent, food etc) things are different and you have my respect for hanging out your own shingle and having a crack.

      Agree with your view that criticism is only of value when it is "informed, educated and objective" and I would add to that list with delivered with well meaning intent. You should genuinely want someone to do better if you are going to chip in with your 2 cents and offer it in a way that is aimed to help.

      As for your apology to Xavier Sam, top marks and a sign of class.

      Commenter
      SmartMonkey
      Date and time
      March 14, 2013, 1:31PM
      • Criticism is always of value.

        If it’s uninformed or lacking in objectivity it is often the most useful type of criticism. It easily identifies those whose opinions are best disregarded. People who do not want to hear criticism, are in my opinion, genuinely ‘soft’. If the criticism is constructive then you have to opportunity to improve, if it’s not constructive then why does it matter? Simply disregard it.

        In my view we’ve somewhat lost the point with regards to criticism. People take comments so personally. Sadly, people seem to be less able to disregard criticism that is less constructive and more of a personal attack these days. People seem so insecure. Why would you possibly be ‘offended’ at the remarks of someone who clearly doesn’t know what they are talking about?

        We cannot, and should not try to control what people say. The focus should not be on stopping people from being ignorant twits because there will always be ignorant twits. The focus should be on teaching people how to deal with ignorant twits in a reasonable way.

        lastly, well done Sam for offering a genuine apology.

        Commenter
        Nyd
        Date and time
        March 14, 2013, 1:56PM

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