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October 31, 2014

Learn to Use Criticism as Fuel



*Published in the Sun-Times Beacon news on Monday, October 27th

I recently had the opportunity to attend a law enforcement conference and listen to Sandra Hutchens of Orange County, California, share with the nearly 700 attendees, her experience after being appointed Sheriff in 2008 by the Orange County Board of Supervisors by a 3-2 vote.  The appointment came after her predecessor was indicted on federal corruption charges in the middle of his term.  
Sheriff Hutchens has since run for election and is currently serving her first full term after the initial appointment. She jokingly stated that the bar wasn’t set very high by her predecessor. She quipped that by not getting indicted, she’s already a head above him.
But what I found extremely interesting was her account of the headlines that ran when she was originally appointed.  Sheriff Hutchens read though a stack of scathing one-liners such as, “They Picked the Wrong Sheriff” then stated with a chuckle, “Not a very warm welcome, huh?”
I began thinking about the immediacy in judgment and how quick the public (and the media) vilified her before she’d even had a chance to prove herself.  Given that the previous Sheriff was convicted for witness tampering after being investigated for accepting secret cash payments, engaging in illicit sexual affairs and taking political favors, it is interesting that Hutchens would be met with such opposition.
We have a tendency to see elected officials and people in positions of power as open-season for target practice and those who assume the positions have to be willing to take the hits.  
Don’t misunderstand and assume that no one should be questioned.  In fact, legitimacy is based on fact-finding and accountability to those we entrust to positions of power.  I’m referring instead to the constant barrage of criticism accompanied by the loose interpretation of the truth. 
What I find particularly amusing is how so many people stand on the sidelines doing absolutely nothing meaningful but still manage to criticize those who are trying to do good work.
It reminded me of the famous Teddy Roosevelt quotation:
“It’s not the critic who counts. It’s not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled. Credit belongs to the man who really was in the arena, his face marred by dust, sweat, and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs to come short and short again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming…”
This is a great lesson for those who get frustrated with the “anonymous” bloggers and posters on the internet and those who bark judgments while doing nothing of value themselves.  You’ll never see those critics offer solutions or roll their sleeves up to help.  Instead they remain on the sidelines lacking the courage to put themselves out there.
If Sheriff Hutchens had believed the critics, she might not ever have showed up to work.  And if she took the time to correct the misinformation, she’d never get any work done.  The same goes for the majority of the do-gooders who are trying their very best to fight the good fight with honor and integrity.  
Just the other day I was accused of teaching in Arizona on the Aurora taxpayers’ dime.  Had I not corrected the person in the highly populated venue, some might have believed the accusation to be true when in fact, I used my personal vacation time.  But what about all the untruths that are never corrected?  
It is extremely important to understand that someone simply stating something does not make it true.  
Those who are doing the work press on in spite of the criticism because they have learned that there will always be people sitting on the sidelines watching and judging those in the arena.
If there is one thing I have learned in this life, it’s this:  If you learn to use criticism as fuel, you will never run out of energy.
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