It’s Easy to Criticize from the Stands

Something’s been bothering me for the past few months and today I finally put my finger on it.

It bothers me how much people like to criticize other people.

“People suck,” you’re thinking to yourself “so what’s your point?”

Ok, so it’s not just that people like to criticize other people, it’s that they like to criticize other people when they have relative anonymity, and when they haven’t achieved much themselves.

Yep, I’m gonna get flamed for this one.

Many of us have this tendency. You probably watched your dad criticize a coach’s decision when watching the game on TV, and he was loud and vocal about it. As if the decision couldn’t possibly make sense to anyone. That it was a crime against humanity and everyone knew it.

The internet brings this out more than any other medium I’ve seen; at no point in history have so many Monday morning quarterbacks been able to get together and toss insults at anyone who’s doing anything original, creative, or unique.

Like when people railed on Seth Godin for launching Squidoo.

Or hammered on Tim Ferriss about the 4-Hour Workweek.

Or talk smack semi-anonymously about Gary Vaynerchuk. Or Joel Spolsky.

There’s a need in some people to criticize the efforts of others. But you know what I’ve noticed? The more you put yourself out there, the more you realize how hard it is to do so, and the less you have this tendency.

I can’t remember the last time I saw someone like Seth, Gary or Tim rag on someone else.

Sure, they might disagree with someone’s approach (Ferriss likes to work short weeks, Gary V. likes to work long weeks), but they talk about it like adults and ultimately agree to disagree. They don’t disparage one another or one anothers’ belief. They simply acknowledge that another intelligent person could think differently and still be considered intelligent.

I think the difference is that once you’re putting yourself out there you realize that doing anything worthwhile is really hard…so you cut people some slack.

Because making decisions in the public eye, publishing passionate content that’s part of you, trying risky things, starting a company, writing a blog that people read, starting a podcast, and doing something that other people notice…is so terrifying I dedicated an entire post to it last week.

I’m not sure what the take away is. Maybe that it’s easy to criticize from the stands.

It’s easy to poke holes in someone’s argument on a forum with 100 readers where all you give is your first name and last initial.

That it’s easy to pick apart someone’s startup idea, their app, their new song, or their blog when you’ve never had the guts to do any of those things yourself.

What’s hard…is doing something.

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#1 Neo_L on 04.21.10 at 6:03 am

“The more you put yourself out there, the more you realize how hard it is to do so, and the less you have this tendency.” – Really appreciable tendency in a society.

#2 Michał Paluchowski on 04.21.10 at 7:01 am

I wouldn’t be bothered too much with the general public criticizing creative people and endeavors. Whenever I do something out of the ordinary 9-5-pay-your-bills-on-time routine I expect to not be understood, criticized or at best get plenty of “good” and well-meaning advice.

What truly bothers me is when I get none of the above. No reaction at all is when I really do worry 🙂

#3 Steve Moyer on 04.21.10 at 11:30 am


I would have no problem criticizing your post … if I didn’t agree with it, but was brought up that:

a) Criticism should be constructive.
b) Criticism should be less common than praise.
c) Criticism should be impersonal.

So when you say “Yep, I’m gonna get flamed for this one.”, I consider that a different very interaction than real criticism. I’m sure you don’t mind (as I don’t) if people offer an alternative view and an attached rationale, even when it might include a description of why you were wrong. This type of argument either convinces me that I am in fact wrong, or strengthens my determination that I’m actually right.

On the other hand, no one I know really likes to be attacked. And let’s face the facts … it’s easy for me to attack you anonymously as there’s very little downside. That still doesn’t make it nice. And the Internet has now bred a generation that’s used to being unaccountable when they’re on-line.

So I pledge to be nice on-line … as Zig Ziglar said “Every obnoxious act is a cry for help. ”

Thanks for putting yourself out there!

#4 JD Conley on 04.21.10 at 12:35 pm

Rob you’re such an idiot! Who could possibly think like this? This post is single handedly going to ruin your reputation, career, and love life!

Haha, surprised I’m the first. 😉

#5 John Gallagher on 04.21.10 at 2:27 pm


Totally agree.

However, I find it relatively easy to stomach a vocal anonymous minority slamming people who are in the public eye.

I have a harder time accepting people who have paid for a product or service, then request a specific feature they think is important really rudely.

Comments like “What’s taking you so long? It’s a simple request. Fulfil it or I’m leaving.” This upsets me – it feels more personal. I don’t have a problem with people requesting things, but reading other people’s support forums, the rudeness is the bit that really gets to me.

I guess I’m going to have to develop a thicker skin before I release my product!

#6 Dan on 04.21.10 at 10:58 pm

Rob, I love this insight. Just wrote a similar post. I truly believe that when you spend your time being creative in the service of others, you basically stop knocking others who are doing it too. Its too tough!

#7 Amber on 04.22.10 at 3:40 pm

I once heard the saying “Smart Critiques, Stupid Creates”. The point is it’s easy to act (or think you are acting) smart so long as you can sit back and critique others, but if you actually get up and start doing, you will inevitably look stupid. Of course, the second one is a better way to live your life. I have shut myself up on more than one occasion by remembering this.

#8 Jas Panesar on 04.24.10 at 10:59 pm

Great post Rob.

Energy vampires are everywhere.

When asking folks, sometimes they miss that supporting someone to try something creative and positive often pulls their own lives into question. Often we just want a pat on the back to keep going, inward, onward, and upward.

Folks who don’t like looking at their own lives often will not want to do that when someone’s actions bucks their explanation of “how it is”.

Another group I’ve experienced is anyone who is a downer on anyone working harder than them (“still working? live a little..”) or when you let loose, you hear the “must be nice” enjoying life more than them.

The cynicism about themselves and their own lives to explain things to be much more complex or harder than it is is only balanced off with the “I could have done that..” when the idea does take off.

I have all but stopped asking for opinions and input from people who have little to no relevant expertise on the subject I’m looking for input on. If they’re not eating their own cooking, or trying to, how relevant is it anyways?

Often it doesn’t mean much, over time these consistent remark teach you who can support you is only those who support themselves in a same encouraging way with a healthy and positive inner dialogue.

This post was cool to reflect on how much I’ve learnt and am still learning about myself, and people…. thanks!

#9 Chris Pearce on 05.02.10 at 4:43 pm

I’d love to write an automated comment moderator, which downvoted or otherwise penalized brainless and non-constructive comments. Then we wouldn’t have to trawl through as much drivel on Redit/Hacker News in order to read the insightful comments.

#10 Tim Cull on 05.06.10 at 2:32 pm

Thanks for this reminder. It makes me think of my favorite quote from Teddy 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, who comes short again and again, 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.”