Why we’ve become armchair critics and nit-pickers

Source: YouTube

It’s easy to yell gratuitous advice to those on the field of play when you are standing on the sideline. 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 a self-appointed judge when watching Olympic athletes perform or listening to entertainers belt out a song on a talent show. 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. Even so, 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’m not an apologist for politicians who are inept or corrupt. Nonetheless, I 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. Still, many in the electorate erroneously believe otherwise, and this was certainly the case with regard to the pandemic.

From continent to continent, citizens played the COVID blame game, pointing fingers at governments and using them as scapegoats. While in some cases (America and Brazil) this criticism was absolutely warranted, in others (Australia and New Zealand) it was unjustified.

Regardless, people are always quick to assign blame to those in power. Blaming others is a common coping strategy during a crisis. Rallying against a common enemy brings people together. But this should never be used as an excuse to participate in a witch hunt.

I’m the first to acknowledge that some governments displayed breathtaking incompetence in managing COVID, resulting in unnecessary fatalities. Equally, I must acknowledge the poor behaviour of those citizens who refused to adhere to stay-at-home orders and mask-wearing requirements, and who protested in the streets as part of a campaign of civil disobedience.

We can’t criticise governments for making bad choices when we do the same ourselves. The door swings both ways, so responsibility for the spread of the virus does not just lie with governments. Many people hold a dim view of their fellow citizens and blame “the other guy” for a failure of personal responsibility.

■      ■      ■

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 keyboard 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 whom you can learn. In this regard, experience is the teacher.

Life has taught me that practise invariably trumps theory. Knowing something is one thing, but actually being able to do it is quite another. 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 who set the parameters within which businesses must operate. But if you have never worked at the coal face of a business yourself, you risk being labelled an armchair critic.

I learned at an early age that life is made up of spectators and players – those who are bystanders and those who are participants. 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. Still, 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 down players, 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. Of course, it’s astonishingly easy to be an armchair critic. According to author, Azrin Mohd Noor, you just have to:

… sit back comfortably in that armchair, point fingers at others, highlight their alleged flaws and probably feel good doing it, not realising the extent of one’s actions on another. When you are the other person, the last thing you need at that moment are words that add salt to the wound or a further kick in the gut when you are down …. It is funny that an armchair critic who sits down passively and is not an achiever can speak venomously on topics he may know little or nothing about. He is critical of others even when he does not have a clue how a job is done. For example, if he has never been a CEO of a public-listed company, how would he know what it really takes to run one?

Remember, no statues have been erected in honour of critics.


Paul J. Thomas
Chief Executive Officer
Ductus Consulting

One Reply to “Why we’ve become armchair critics and nit-pickers”

  1. Thoughtfully and well written, Paul.
    Our societies have become so polarized. It is almost a given that whatever side one is on … be it politics, sports, or workplace, a respectful and informed discussion is very difficult for a lot of people to engage. Social media has slowly and insidiously encouraged this behavior. Twitter … TikToc …

    In Canada, we have a show called 60 Minutes on Sundays from the U.S. Yesterday, it talked about how China exports a different version of its TikToc invention to the West … to our detriment. Because we are such close neighbors to the U.S. one cannot help but get caught up in their politics and decisions. I sometimes think and fear that the US is going to hell in a hand basket. It is not someone from elsewhere that will cause this … but themselves. Their Mid Term elections are coming up on Tuesday, and my God!, the more inflammatory lies and just ugliness of the human nature towards each other the greater their following.

    Well Paul, I got off on a tangent. It is hard not to take notice, because it also spills over into our country, Canada.
    Just read about The Freedom Convoy that breached Ottawa last winter. Well Paul, nice talking to you. Keep your posts coming as I always look forward to reading them … sometimes a bit later.

    Denise Rideout

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *