Cold and timid souls
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.