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.
- Teddy Roosevelt, 4/23/1910
I'm not a fan of all things Roosevelt and I've read this statement before, but it struck me when a friend posted it online this morning; This is a very just and relevant indictment of Academia (is that ironic?).
Too often academic critiques are issued as vitriolic condemnation of those "whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood." Academics, many of whom dwell deeply in the realm of theory, often chide imperfect "doers," whether they be policy-makers, humanitarian organizations, or corporations. Much of this criticism is useful insofar that it successfully changes discourse or actions for the better.
However, as someone who has experienced life on both sides of this divide, there does seem to be something hypocritical, maybe even narcissistic about a critique issued by a theoretician who makes infrequent trips into the realm of the practical. More constructive criticism may be issued by other "doers," who perhaps have theoretical training, but whose criticisms reflect the same intimate acquaintance with the reality of those whom they are critiquing.
Otherwise, criticism may become more violent and dogmatic and character, with the effect of browbeating and bullying those in the arena of the practical into inaction. I am sensitive to this issue, as my own experience with graduate school in a critical discipline has opened my mind to valid critiques, but also made me terrified of the judgement that comes with re-entering the world of the practical, which is, to be honest, where I have always been the most comfortable. I hope that I am able to somehow chart a middle road, making use of my academic preparation, but not paralyzed into inaction by that knowledge.
What do you want to read?