There’s a well-known saying that goes something like this: “Those who can, do...those who can’t, teach”. It’s been around so long it’s become almost accepted wisdom, and is often used by those who can't come up with an original thought of their own as a way to put down teachers. It’s lazy, and says more about them than the object of their scorn...a bit like “Ok, boomer”.
There’s no doubt it is a pithy one liner, but it’s always struck me as a bit unfair to teachers. In my experience, being able to teach a skill is far rarer than possessing it. Most of the truly talented people I’ve encountered struggle to explain the actual process of what they do in a way that can be taught (Shane Warne is a notable exception – he has not only mastered his craft, he understands how and can articulate it). Because the things they do come so naturally to them they assume it should be just as obvious to everyone, often getting frustrated when someone struggles to get it right straight away.
The combination of patience and communication often counts for more when it comes to teaching, which is why great players don’t necessarily make great coaches, in fact it’s often the cricketers who had to work hard to make the most of limited talent who excel. This is true across the board, you don't need to be a rock god to be a great guitar teacher or a heavyweight champion to teach boxing.
You just need to understand the basic principles that underpin your subject, know the fundamentals that you have to possess first to be able to execute everything else, and have the ability to explain that to someone in a way that they can understand. You don't need to be particularly good at something to what being good at it takes.
The casual disparagement contained in that proverb doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny, and it is no coincidence that the people use it the most, often dripping with smugness as if they’d come up with themselves, are neither “doers” or “teachers”—and have no idea what it takes to be either.
They fall into a third group, the “critics”. Now, before I go any further it’s important to distinguish between this “critics” and actual experts on a subject, who can speak from a place of knowledge. Over time, the word critic has been devalued to simply involve criticism. A critic evaluates and interrogates something, as concerned with what is done right as done wrong. And when there is criticism, it’s intent to is show the way to something better, to improve not to destroy.
Those who can, do...those who can’t, criticise.
“Critics”, though—or I should instead call them “Critiks”—are something else entirely. They are the ones who sit on the side-lines watching while others work, pointing out how they are doing it all wrong. Unlike a critic, they don’t offer any suggestions for a better way, and they usually have no desire to do the work themselves.
They can’t, or won’t, “do” anything, but instead of “teaching” or helping to make things better they criticise the efforts of those who are least trying to do something. They know that they fall short when measured against the doers, but instead building themselves up by helping make things better, they’d rather drag everyone down to their level.
Either pitch in....or buzz off
There’s only a few times in our history where we’ve needed “doers” and “teachers” as much as we do right now. They may not be getting everything right, but at least they are trying to do something. We need the critics, too, to point out what doesn't work, what does, and how things could be better. But, what we don't need, what we can’t afford, is the “critiks” who don’t help, but often hinder. I think you can work out who’s who for yourselves.
David Goodwin is the former Editor of The Salvation Army’s magazine,War Cry. He is also a cricket tragic, and an unapologetic geek.
David Goodwin archive of articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-goodwin.html