“Arguing with an idiot is like playing chess with a pigeon. No matter how well you play the pigeon is going to wind up pooping on the board and then strutting around like it won.”
- Randy Phillips, Monday Morning Memo March 4, 2022
Long-time subscribers know that I am a devoted fan of the Iowa Hawkeyes, and we’re heading into the peak of college football season. So, what’s the connection to today’s headline and quote?
Three weeks ago, a variety of chess-playing-pigoens on The Tweeter and Instaface or Facegram were calling for the head of Iowa’s legendary head coach, Kirk Ferentz. He’s won 181 games as Iowa’s leader and has placed dozens of young men in the NFL, most of whom started as “Who’s He?” recruits. And three weeks ago, the idiots were calling for the university to fire him.
Most reasonable folks ignored them, on account o’ not wanting pigeon poo on their chess boards. A few well-intentioned fans, God bless them, took up the argument. Only to face lots of pooping and strutting. Because, you see, the Hawks have recorded two straight wins — one against a very bad team and one against a relatively bad team) and now many of these same Tweeters and Sound-Off call-in show hacks are touting “the system,” and expecting Iowa to win 7 of its last 8 games this year. “Build a statue,” they’re shouting…
It’s the same in our businesses. Ask “what’s right?” and get ready for the crickets. Ask “what’s wrong?” and look out for the dump truck of pigeon excrement headed your way.
Theodore Roosevelt said as much in 1910 in his famous Citizenship In A Republic speech (more widely known as “The Man In The Arena.”)
“A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticize work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life’s realities — all these are marks, not of superiority, but of weakness.”
The key phrase for me is “work which the critic himself never tries to perform.” As Joe South (and later Elvis) sang, “…before you abuse, criticize and accuse, walk a mile in my shoes.” We live in a time when folks who’ve never been in the arena, sit in the bowl of the arena and bluster at the ones with the sweat and tears that come from doing the work.
Just like most people have never coached a Division I, Power Five Conference football team for 24 years and to almost 200 wins, most people who complain the loudest about (insert boss, teacher, coach, CEO) do not have contact with the realities of business. Nor do they have a clear handle on what it takes to lead a team, run or own a business, make the hard decision and open yourself up to critiques from the pigeons with tons of fiber in their diets.
Should we question authority? Yes, if we’ve got an idea of what might be done differently. Should we speak truth to power? Dang right, as long as we’re willing to use forethought and empathy in framing our voice.
Odds are, though, if we find ourselves cynical, aloof or out of contact with reality, we maybe ought to check our tongues and simply do the work.