Critics’ critiques and cheerleaders’ cheers

There was a guy I went to school with who earned the (affectionate) nickname “Yes, but…”

In any discussion, whether of microeconomic models or where to go for lunch, he started most sentneces with a nod to the contradiction, the course correction, the “on the other hand” point of view he was about to espouse.

In fact most humanities academia is built on the “Yes, but” philosophy – a peer writes a paper, the academic finds a small flaw or oversight and writes a follow-up article exposing that small miss…and in so doing gets her next piece of work published (which is the main milestone in academia).

No surprise, then, that the “yes, but” mindset passes for “critical thinking” which, in turn, is raised to the highest pedistal in our instituitons of higher learning.  “Yes, but…” comments score points with teachers (“great analysis, kid!”) and are the safest form of one-upmanship.

I used to be a terrible offender.  From a good and honest place, and a heartfelt desire to come up with the best solutions, I was most comfortable and most in the habit of finding the logical flaws and asking the tough questions.

I have a colleague who does the opposite, and from whom I’ve learned a lot.  She has an uncanny ability to find what is best, what is most inspiring, what is unique about what someone has said or done, and she shines a light on it with a smile and with no apologies.

When you’re blazing a new path, you’re constantly dogged by critics’ critiques of all the reasons that this won’t work, why it’s been done before and it crashed and burned, why it would be better if you just did it the way everyone else does.  And, of course, sometimes they’ll be right, but usually not.  They’re doing the easy thing: playing the clever, detached critic.

Much harder, and less celebrated, is to be a cheerleader who applauds victories, however small; who props people up when fatigue sets in, when the road seems to long, or when they have, just for a second, lost the will to go even one step further.   In work as in life, when times are really tough, those voices of support are priceless, especially from cheerleaders who help you break through barriers, who lean in with you, who are fully invested in YOUR success – rather than taking pot shots from the sidelines.

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