March 7, 2022 By Glenn Mangurian
In August of 2010 I wrote my first essay on the topic of criticism. Back then, everyone seemed to be a critic. In 2015 I rewrote that essay because things seemed to have gotten worse. Today, criticism permeates our public discourse. Whether it is cable news, talk radio, social media or the virtual watercooler, critics pontificate about anything they don’t like or anyone with whom they disagree. Some are sincere in their complaints while others make a sport of being oppositional. Some have been complainers for so long that they have developed a cynical outlook on life. They live in a binary judgmental world – good vs. bad, right vs. wrong and us vs. them. A few are focused on denigrating, ridiculing, if not demonizing those with different views. The vitriol seems to devolve as time goes on. These people often say they are just exercising their opinions as free speech. What has happened to the practice of civility in public discourse?
Critics are generally against things, and champions are generally for things. It is easy being a critic. After all, we are human, with many imperfections. Pick any topic and it’s easy to disparage something about it. Critics are masterful at finding the weakest points in someone else’s position. Put two faultfinders in a room and you’ll likely see limited listening and each person talking past the other. With so much disapproval in the air, have the champions gone underground? Who would you prefer to be around critics or champions? In my experience critics exude fear, anger and negative energy while champions share optimism and positive energy. We tend to celebrate champions as heroes. Given the choice, I’ll pick positive energy.
By now, you probably have concluded that I am being a critic of the critics. Don’t get me wrong. We are all critics and champions at different points in time. In fact, criticism is an important part of self-expression. My point is that we seem to be out of balance these days. I hear more criticism than championship. I am for “responsible contention.” “Responsible contention” is a generative debate with the objective of improving upon an idea. Without champions who advocate, we would live in the status quo. Without critics who challenge our thinking, we would have no improvement. Without mutual respect, tolerance and civility, we would have no learning or innovation.
Next time you are tempted to criticize, try to reframe the issue. Ask yourself, “What in this situation can I champion rather than criticize? “
Food for Thought
- Do you tend toward being a critic or a champion? Why?
- How do you think others see you?
- How do you relate to critics? Champions?
- What is your tolerance for differing positions?
- How do we teach our children civil discourse, tolerance and championship?