A Kinder, Gentler Naysayer

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything about optimism. My golf game has been marginal so it’s been hard to generate much optimism about that.

That, however, is another story.

I’ll just say it: My oldest friend is a naysayer who never says nay, at least not straight out.

It’s sad…

The odd thing is that even though I’ve known the guy for something like five decades I would have never described him as typically pessimistic, until now. In fact, I’m the cynical one. I’m the one who sees corruption everywhere. I’m the one who is always suspect of motives. I’m the one who views all bureaucracies as evil.

But, that’s yet another story.

My old friend is a kinder and gentler kind of naysayer. I’m going to outline but three examples and you’ll have to take my word that these are among the more mild examples I could discuss. The really juicy examples are simply too personal to blog about.

Internet anonymity only goes so far.

Nay Say #1

I’ll start with the most minor example. I was telling my buddy about a young administrative assistant who worked with me last year. He’s a real nice guy and very bright. That said, he’s kind of stuck in his 20s with not a lot of big ideas about what to do with his life. Sound familiar? Anyway, the kid came to me one day with this idea to blog about The Internet of Things. I thought this was dandy idea. This is a kid who aspires to write, but doesn’t actually write all that much. A blog would give him an easy way to focus his energy on something and to develop his own writer’s voice.

Great, right?

Here’s what my buddy said. “Really…what qualifies him to write about that?”

At the time I didn’t make it much of the issue other than to point out that the whole purpose of a blog was simply to express opinion. That’s all the kid wanted to do; express an opinion about something that was interesting to him. The idea struck me as totally harmless and maybe helpful to the kid, if no one else.

Nay Say #2

I’ve been writing and editing since I was in high school though neither has ever been my profession. Still since I hit my 40s I’ve taken my work more seriously. I’ve edited one golf book, written one of my own and co-written another much longer book. In between I’ve written more than a hundred essays and reviews and published and vanity-printed a short story. One day I told my buddy that I was writing a golf novella. He expressed what can only be described as mildly good-humored interest before saying cheerfully, “Hey, you should take a creative writing class at UCLA!”

Happily, I chose not to render him unconscious, though it was my genuine first impulse. I thought to myself, I’m a 54-year-old writer who has to date achieved little in the way of sales or financial reward. But, at the same time I have also never spoken to my friend about any creative struggles I’ve had with my work. On the contrary, I’ve only told him about my enthusiasm for my projects and even about my wish that we might work on something together. So what justified his take that I should go to school where someone who knew what they were doing could tell me how little I knew about what I was doing?

Nay Say #3

One day I was telling my buddy about another friend of mine who builds spec houses for a living. I showed him a photo of one of the beautiful mountain houses my friend is building and mentioned offhand that he designs his homes himself. My buddy’s comeback? “Oh, is a licensed architect?” This time I did bristle a bit. I told him that he wasn’t and who gives a crap? This guy has designed and built scores of high end custom spec houses and has been a residential developer for the last three decades. This was the point where the my friends’ particular brand of nay saying finally started to get the better of me.

The kid at work who wants to blog about The Internet of Things wouldn’t give a shit about what my buddy thinks about his qualifications. I care even less about the fact that my friend thinks it would be a grand idea for me to take a creative writing course. And, my friend who builds spec houses would surely laugh at the question about whether he’s a licensed architect or not.

The simple and common reason we don’t give a collective shit is because we’re too busy giving a bigger shit about our projects. Our only regret is that we don’t have enough time to give our projects the attention we think they deserve.

What all of this really got me around to thinking about is whether being around even a gentle nay sayers helps or hurts? In the case of the guy I’m writing about I can say with complete assurance that his nay saying is far more damaging to him than it is to anyone else. Still, it does make me wonder if what he says could have a creeping negative effect on my confidence.

Let’s face it; even the most accomplished writers can be subject to the occasional bout of a fragile ego. Writers like me do all of their work confident in the fact that no one will ever read their work and if by some cosmic accident anyone ever did they would certain to hate it. With that comforting thought in mind, maybe it’s not so great to have that kind of negative buzz in your head when you’re taking on a challenging project.

I love my nay saying friend, but I hate the thoughtless and lazy negativity that seems to so wholly possess him.

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.”

This quote from TR is taped to the side of my monitor. It’s taped there for at least three reasons: First, it makes me nostalgic for a time, a time before my own, when a president would and could speak publicly with such erudition and sophistication. Second, it encourages me to temper (occasionally) my criticisms of the work of others. Third, it emboldens me to stay in the arena and not to allow myself to be content with being a mere spectator.

I’m quite certain my friend has heard or read this quote. And, I’m sure that in his heart he doesn’t see himself as a relentless nay sayer, yet he is. The challenge for my friend and for me, and for everyone, is to rip those great words from the page and bring them out into the real world in the form of action.

I know what my friend will say to all of this: I will consider it.

I will consider it; the feeble mantra of the nay sayer.

A Kinder, Gentler Naysayer