MySay: The threat of armchair critics

This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on October 28, 2019 - November 03, 2019.
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To be an armchair critic is probably the easiest thing on Earth. Just 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. In fact, you would wish for a hand to reach out and pick you up, restoring your confidence so that the process of learning from a mistake can happen. You will also need the experience to develop and strengthen yourself and try again.

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? What experience and knowledge can he draw from to criticise and put people down? Why does he assume that he knows better as a self-elected CEO?

There are armchair critics who may know or pretend to know a lot about something — in theory but not in practice. They liberally judge the merits and faults of something or someone though they are not truly qualified to do so.

For instance, if you are a parent, remember how it felt when someone asked, “Why is your child not walking yet when other kids his age already are?” And the person went on to say how all 11-month-old children were walking, and inferring there was something wrong with your child. That critic suddenly became an expert in child development.

There are many such instances in our life. We ourselves may have gone through the experience of being judged to meet certain standards and how we wish those who made the callous remarks would stop it.

In the past, what was said reached only a small number, mostly when people got together. Now, thanks to social media, thousands, if not millions, represent a faceless humongous audience ready to be cynical, condescending, patronising and sometimes oppressing. Social media has spawned countless numbers of armchair critics. Now everyone can be a critic or self-proclaimed expert.

Everyone has an opinion about everything. Some express their opinions openly to a wide audience, while others keep it to themselves or share it with a limited circle. But the armchair critic has no reservations about putting people down and he does so publicly without restraint. Feeling high and mighty, he thinks he has the right to judge and correct another person.

While the truly knowledgeable can comment judiciously, the empty drums often do it to cover their own flaws or because they have an inferiority complex. They find pleasure in condemning others and talk only about weaknesses and faults. Never mind that they do not truly understand the situation or even understand what another person is going through. Is the armchair critic’s intention to sincerely help the one he criticises? I doubt so.

When we sincerely want to correct or lift someone up, we do it privately. We share how we relate and understand his journey as a person undergoing his own trials and tribulations. We do not shout about his weaknesses and problems in social media or in public.

It is also the same in business. For example, companies listed on the stock exchange are susceptible to criticism by many — from competitors, analysts and the media to investors and the public. Bad rumours or reviews, poor analyses and unfounded criticisms can ruin a company. It is easy for the armchair critics to judge for they have not gone through the journey of establishing, running and growing a company.

The effects of criticising and putting people down are many. One is that you will hurt the person or entity you criticise. But mind you, when you hurt someone, it will come back to you. Likewise, when you are good to someone, you will benefit from your good deed. Good begets good, bad begets bad.

I believe how we live our life depends on our actions. Repeated action turns to habit, habit turns to behaviour and behaviour becomes a way of life. When we spit in the air, the spit will hit us on our face. When we choose to criticise someone an hurl hate, the reality facing us is pain and turmoil within ourselves. When we choose to fill our hearts with compassion and understanding, and support one another, a positive ecosystem is developed and our life can be filled with calmness and gratitude. We do have choices — be good and good will be reciprocated.

There is also a common belief that if you feed the devil, you will behave like the devil. So feed goodness in the heart and focus on the positive instead of the negative. It generates optimism and allows positivity to thrive. Let us all reject the heinous behaviour of an armchair critic. The simple result is a win for everyone.

Let us all start by understanding the journey taken by every individual or entity and provide assistance to try and uplift them instead of destroy. Take the trouble to understand the entrepreneur and the enterprise and help both to do better by giving our support and encouragement. Such actions can go a long way to help enterprises become strong, which in turn can enable our economy and our nation to grow.

Let us agree to stop criticising and putting people down. Let us agree to keep our negative opinions to ourselves. Armchair critics are not helpful. They are harmful. When it is our time to be judged, we would wish for someone to come and support us and help us to rise up. Be that someone.


Datuk Azrin Mohd Noor is the founder of Sedania Group and an innovator, author and IP expert

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