Part one of a two-part guest post from Poznan In My Pants (PIMP).
The Charms of Criticism
There is a lot to be said for criticism.
It is necessary, even essential. I’m all for it, myself. I love a spot of considered, knowledgeable, criticism. But a bottomless sea of criticism leads to negativity. Isn’t it funny that no one wants to be labeled as “negative?” What does that tell you about excessive criticism? They all want to be known as realists. And I don’t blame them, because negativity is cancerous to the human spirit.
(Ultimately, this is actually a post about the NextGen Series though it will take me until the second part of this article to get to it).
But criticism, measured criticism that is, is positive, up to a point. When my (hypothetical) wife criticizes me I always strive to embrace the experience so as to become a better man. Surrrrre I do. On the other hand, when I get a continuous stream of criticism from my (hypothetical) wife, I just shut it off.
Some feel that staying positive in tough times is just having your head in the sand. One person in particular chastises Gooners for accepting mediocrity while having their head in the sand. I’m amazed he can see, from where he has his own head stuck. (He must have taken a breather at some point to have a look around.)
I shared a train with him once, from Birmingham to London. It stopped at Leamington Spa, among many other stations along the way. “Oh, cool, I used to live here.” I said. He replied, “You’re excited about Leamington Spa when we’re on this train to get to London? Absolutely typical. Settling for mediocrity again.” I sighed.
The Positivity Ratio 3:1
The do-ers in life are generally very positive. Studies show a ratio of between 3 and 11 positive thoughts to every one negative thought (ie between 3:1 and 11:1) leads to action, creativity, solution finding, being open to ideas and being empathetic to others, and most importantly, enjoying your life. And by extension, it leads to having the wherewithal to actually make things better: the ability to find creative solutions, the ability to understand others and bring them together, and the energy to actually do something about it. It has been rigorously studied. As you all know, it’s what we do in America. We study shit.
Note: You have to get above 11:1 to start being dysfunctionally delusional. There is plenty of head-room here, guys. You’re not even close.
So, excuse me if I am slow to join you, Debbie Downer.
But A 1:1 Ratio Is Still Good, Right?
Many would look on a 1:1 ratio as simply being “realistic,” but even that ratio can leave you in a rut of inactivity, complaining, with a narrowed and bleak view of possible solutions and outcomes. This may be counter-intuitive to you that 1:1 is not good. But remember, it is saying that every second thought you have is a criticism. How would you like to be married to that? On the other hand, it certainly explains why being a so-called realist is still code for being depressing. If these “realists” suggest action, it tends to be of the “burn it down” variety, with a distinct air of blameyness. That’s why so many of today’s solutions for Arsenal tend to involve getting rid of people – players, manager, owners etc., or on a good day, buying new players (which is also code for getting rid of people.) In manufacturing they champion Continuous Improvement Methods, which are apparently more effective than the alternative “Burn It All Down And Start Again” methods of manufacturing improvement.
So if 1:1 is not particularly good, imagine what a Gooner who has a 1:5 or 1:10 ratio does to himself and to those who have to listen to him. “Oh, but I’m just being realistic. You’ve all got your head in the sand and are settling for mediocrity. Whereas I’m just the man to criticize us all the way back to the top of Europe.”
In all seriousness, I try to apply the 3:1 ratio in life. And it’s challenging, really, really challenging. But it changes everything when you manage it. And I will grant you that Arsenal doesn’t make it any easier at the moment. But Arsenal is a great subject to practice on. And from there it could change your life.
Humans run on positivity. Positivity and optimism don’t stop you from wanting and demanding improvement, they tend to empower you. It’s the fuel for making things better. Negativity is the fuel of the armchair critic, and it tends to lead to views like “they’re all shit: the team, the manager, the board and the owner. The problems go right to the core of the club. We’ve been heading down hill for X years in a straight line. This was inevitable.”
We don’t get to pick the team, select the tactics, sign new players, hire a new manager or find a new owner, though you wouldn’t know that based on the angry debates we inflict upon each other.
We do get to support the team. We do get to cheer or boo. We get to encourage our fellow supporters, or to depress them by painting scenes of seemingly impending apocalyptic nightmares.
So, if you really want to show that you want to win and that you won’t settle for mediocrity, cheer the beejaysus out of every moment that an Arsenal player is on the field instead. Let them sense your ambition from the roar. No one will be under the illusion that you don’t have ambition. Oohing and gasping and grumbling when it’s not going well doesn’t help to communicate ambition: it just tells the players that you’ve lost belief in them.
I was at a few matches in St. Etienne when I was in France, and fuck me, they knew how to support their team. Winning, drawing or in particular losing, they chanted and sang their lungs out all game long. They had a song or chant for everything. What they were singing, I have no idea. Perhaps they had a chant for “You’re all mediocre and you’re showing no ambition” but it did seem to be more uplifting than that. Who knows?
Of course the football culture in both countries is completely different. But don’t tell me it’s against the law for the Emirates to cheer more. We’ve all seen the Emirates rocking when Arsenal had their backs to the wall against Barca. It was even pretty good against Bayern for most of that game. A little Battle of Britain spirit is required for these next matches. Screw the performance and the score. Scream your lungs out regardless.
For now and the near future, the team is the team, the squad is the squad, and for this and another season, the manager will be the manager.
There is nothing wrong with those supporters who choose to look at the positives, and continue to look for improved fortunes. It is for their own good, for the good of those around them, and for the good of this team and manager.
I’d like to dedicate this post to Anna Lvova, @madruskigunner, one of the joys of twitter, as well as her wonderful @AFCphotobank account which might be my favourite thing on twitter. You can find me on Twitter @posnaninmypants. Part two of this post will appear on Positively Arsenal later this week.