The Armchair (aka Ignorant) Critic

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Recently, I had an opportunity to be on local TV as a member of a publicly elected board whose monthly meetings are now going to be televised. I have no fear of public speaking and went into the inaugural recording upbeat with the objective of making the meeting interesting, maybe even fun to watch.

(Side note: The meeting was telecast “live;” a recording was made and uploaded “on demand” for later viewing.)

Objectively, the meeting went fine. We got through the agenda and discussed the matters of the board in a productive and respectful way. So imagine my surprise when I received not one, but two emails, sent to, in essence, correct what I had said relative to two picayune matters.

On both points, each of which required the critic to #1) watch the meeting and #2) take the time to inform me that what I said was inaccurate, I went back and watched the recording of the meeting. (Both emails were received soon after the initial broadcast, leading me to conclude that neither critic had watched the “on demand” recording, as it was not yet available, to confirm their initial criticism.)

Painful as it might be to see oneself on TV (or to relive what was a very long meeting in the first place), I was on a fact-finding mission. I felt compelled (the literary definition of the word, not the way it is used in common parlance) to check my own memories of what I’d said, for I was sure that I’d not misspoken in the way described by those two critics.

While it is important to “set the record straight,” I’m not one to smile and nod when a criticism is simply wrong. On both accounts, the criticism did not align with the words spoken, recorded, and televised. In that way, I feel justified in expressing my dismay over the efforts taken to poo-poo what these critics believe they heard, that is, words I never said.

Believe me, I understand the urge to correct an inaccurate record. I also appreciate that that perceptions are often imperfect, mine included. But in both cases of criticism, the critics’ perceptions were wrong. There were no corrections of record to make.

This got me ruminating on those who believe they know the “record.” Let’s presume there is no recording of an event. (Keep in mind that most of life happens without a video recorder present and operating.) With no recording to play back, the critic must rely on his/her own perceptions, his/her own memories, or most egregiously what he or she was told by someone else.

This is where conjecture, speculation, and canards flourish: on the seedy underbelly of those who believe they know what happened and are quick to let others know “the truth.”

It’s exhausting listening to the pretentious and ignorant claims of people who think they know something, especially when that “something” has no recording to watch and cross reference for accuracy. Moreover, it’s not even worth trying to “set the record straight” with those who have come to the conclusion that they know something about someone else.

I unapologetically assert that anyone who would spend their time indulging in gossip is the sort of person whose ethics and perceptions are “off,” to say the least.

We all should consider those things we regard as “true” through a lens of our own (admitted or denied) imperfect perceptions. We need to be mindful about endorsing what the “facts” are, especially where we were not witnesses to the event. Even in those cases where one can claim, “I was there,” we must take into account our failings as eye witnesses.

I’ve quoted Eleanor Roosevelt before. But here is a reminder of one of her a salient ideas:

Great minds discuss ideas;

average minds discuss events;

small minds discuss people. 

Ask yourself: “Do I really need to take time our of my limited lifetime to complain about someone else’s behavior?”*

And if you said, “Nah. I’ll do somethings else with my time,” then you might want to ask yourself this: “What sort of mind do you wish to be regarded as having?”


*Yes, I realize that this essay is “complaining about other people’s behavior.” In my defense, it’s done with the objective of getting people to think about what this means not only for their own selves but also to read the account of one who has recently (and often) been on the receiving end of unsolicited (and inaccurate) criticism.




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