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Don Rogers: How hecklers help us

I didn’t understand in right field, under the lights. I was 13 maybe, already shaky as a sub, learning that spectators are not necessarily fans.

This might have been my first heckling. First I remember, anyway. It’s also one of the many blessings of sports: Best grow a hide.

I probably conflate this first awareness of critics with flubbing a dive to save a no-hitter on a pop-up just out of reach behind the infield. I missed the catch, the ball kept rolling, and we lost the game as well as the no-hitter.



I was devastated. My hecklers were delirious, so happy. Yessir, Rogers. You suck!

The whole world hated me, the world in that moment being two or three older kids loitering along the foul fence line.




At 15, I laughed. I haven’t seen you fellas out here, I hollered back. Easy to talk. Come on out and show us how great you are.

No takers, of course. But they did shut up for almost a minute. I had learned an early lesson about big talkers who don’t take the field themselves. Lots of folks like that in life, it turns out.

ROOSEVELT NAILS IT

You’ve probably seen this before, but I’ll repeat Teddy Roosevelt’s observation here, I like it so much: “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.”

I know, he says “man” where he should say “human” in today’s terms and maybe “they” where he says “he.” So tear down his statues. He had big flaws. He also lived large and dared. And he said something important for all the ages. More of us might at least try.

WHEN THEY DO KNOW

It would be great and easy to declare a pox on all critics and never listen to any of them ever again. But that’s not quite right, either.

There are critics who do or have done what you are doing and do it very well. Ones who know what they are talking about and may be more skilled, more knowledgeable, more talented than you.

What now? Well, now you have to listen.

Let me clarify here that I’m not talking about coaching, feedback, critique, a tough love lecture. I don’t mean some gruff mentor, a teacher, your parent, your spouse, that frank friend who lets you know if your zipper’s down.

No, I mean the haters who care nothing for you and are only too happy to explicate all the many, many ways your work sucks. Bullies, verbal abusers, damaged sourpusses no doubt off-loading all the pain in their own lives on you, sure.

None of that matters here. If they said something true that you can learn from, any scrap you might use, well, that’s worth all the scalding insults, public embarrassment, hits to your self-esteem (which is overrated, by the way).

That is, if you’re to grow.

GREAT LESSONS

I don’t always take it so well, though decades in the public square help with perspective and thickness of that hide. I might listen too long to genuine abuse, fulfilling as it might be for the person ranting. I might not heed what under the hollering are sound suggestions. I might offer some, er, feedback back.

The key skill for getting the best out of those inevitable critics is discernment, I think. Even more than not taking these people personally even when they mean to get personal.

Besides, here’s a primo opportunity to learn tolerance from the intolerant, some Khalil Gibran advice for our times, speaking of lessons that keep going unlearned.

These critics are deeply flawed human beings, after all. Not so different from you and me, actually, even with our better manners. We’d do well to remember that much, out there under the lights.

Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at drogers@sierrasun.com or 530-477-4299


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