“Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.”
This statement is the first of thirty human relations principles Dale Carnegie offered in his iconic book How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Can you imagine what our world would look like if we could nail the execution of this? And when I say world, I mean our world: our homes, our families, our churches, our communities, our companies.
Over the years facilitating dialogue about this principle, there tends to be some pushback. How do we make changes for the better if we’re not able to criticize, condemn or complain?
So glad you asked, random participant.
The answer depends entirely on the position we choose to take when we see something we think could be changed.
Change is something we usually know we need but are often hesitant to explore. Some people thrive on change, some people feel overwhelmed by it. Some people are adept to change and others need a long time to process it.
So how do we move beyond the easy, simple task of problem identification and into the much more complicated and arduous task of problem solving?
Let me tell you a story…
This week, I had the privilege of going back to one of the most welcoming towns to which I’ve been invited to speak–Warren, Minnesota.
Even with my ridiculous book debacle–watch here for details–they invited me back to their community to share my books with them.
In this same trip, I drove a quick ten miles to the north to Argyle, MN for a vendor show during their community festival called Meet Your Neighbor Day (MYND)–which actually entails over a week of events–in a town of under 1,000 people, they take a whole week to meet their neighbors!
I got to visit with some amazing people and they reminded me exactly how to answer that question posed by our random participant earlier. Whether we’re trying to bring about change in our personal lives, our businesses or our communities, the following four characteristics allow us to be a change agent, without resorting to any of the three Cs of Mr. Carnegie’s famous principle.
Be bold. Step out. Be confident. Take risks. Face fears. Ignore the haters.
All of these statements are tidbits of advice that, if actually followed, will set a person on a course for developing personal moxie.
Being a change agent requires this kind of confidence because we have to be willing to speak up and say something. Different from criticizing, condemning or complaining, we can use our personal moxie to address what might be missing or how something might be improved. We focus on the problem as we see it, knowing that this is only the first step in implementing change.
This can be particularly challenging in a small community. Or small church. Or small company.
If we do or say things that are perceived to be weird, unconventional or “crazy”, people will judge us.
It’s not because people in small environments are inherently more judgment-prone or gossip-y than people in larger ones. They just have less to distract them. With fewer people to garner attention, it’s only natural that we’ll become the target of some discussion at some point. Especially if we’re “shaking things up”.
While visiting with someone I can only refer to as a “go-getter” in Warren and listening to the disheartening way some people choose to view her active contributions to their community, I was reminded of the incredible excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt’s Citizenship in a Republic speech delivered in 1910:
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.
At the end of the day, we’ve got to let the haters hate. (‘Cuz they’re gonna hate, hate, hate, hate…)
We’ve got sh*t to do. We’ve got a worthy cause that demands our time and attention.
Personal moxie is the first step. It’s the mindset we need to initiate change and to persevere as we continue down the path.
Why isn’t personal moxie enough? Because true change is rarely accomplished through individual effort alone. I do believe success is more about the journey than the end game. That journey ought not to be traveled alone.
Change agents are collaborative.
And collaboration requires hard work and dedication. It’s no small feat to pull a group of people together, even if they are rallied around a common goal, and steer them in the same direction.
While I was in Warren, I ate at a quaint little coffee shop located on Jefferson Avenue called “The W”. The day I arrived, I was visiting with Beth, the new owner, and discovered she was on day 21 of her new role.
As I sat in this shop (and I was there a lot) I casually observed Beth and her customers.
Beth has all the qualities I mentioned above in spades. No doubt. She’s bold, she’s willing to learn, she’s hungry and she’s humble.
As she talked about her experience a mere three weeks into her gig, she was quick to credit others. She mentioned her mom helping out for supply runs to neighboring communities and the overwhelming show of support from everyone in Warren, not to mention the person who made the opportunity available to her in the first place.
She even said, “With all this love and support, how could I fail, right?”
If her hustling lunch crowd on a random Wednesday is any indication, Beth is precisely right. She will not fail. Her customers were as delighted to be dining there as she was to be serving them.
Once we’ve identified something that needs to be changed, we must seek out others that have a desire to bring about that same change. (Not as applicable if you desire to make a change within yourself, in which case, you call a quick committee meeting of me, myself and I and get all parties on board.)
Bottom line: change is rarely accomplished through only one individual. It does takes a village–a village that can be started by one moxie-fied person.
In Argyle, for MYND, I was blown away by what this mighty little town can accomplish in a week’s worth of events.
As I visited with Jenny, one of the week’s coordinators, she shared all the big projects Argyle was working towards. From starting a new wellness center to raising funds for a community pool, Jenny and people like her don’t wait for someone else to start.
They identify a need and they answer the call, thrilled to jump in and troubleshoot the problem.
They take initiative.
Think for a moment about the “man outside the arena”, you know the one…he’s the one eating a large bag of popcorn, slurping on a big gulp and cutting down all the people brave enough to step inside. It’s easy to be that person, isn’t it? It’s easy to stand in judgment of other people when you’re not doing the work, fronting the cash, or investing your energy.
There’s no risk in standing outside the arena.
As Dale Carnegie himself said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn or complain and most fools do.”
Be a problem solver. Don’t wait for someone else to start. Take initiative.
Truth be told, I was having a hard time defining the word I really wanted to use here.
I considered passionate. For me, there’s a lot of weight around this word as it’s been shoved down our throats as the golden ticket to lifetime happiness and fulfillment. Hearing this over and over can cause us to question if perhaps we’re somehow broken due to our struggle to articulate our singular passion.
Nope. Passion was not the word.
I considered positive. But you know what? There will be times when serving on a board or committee or even in our own business that not only will we see our cup as half empty, but we’ll imagine our cup wandering through a desert wilderness only seeing water in a mirage. Not a drop of water in sight for our cup. Positivity alone didn’t feel quite right either.
Then, it hit me. Enthusiasm.
When you read that word, what comes to mind?
For some reason, it seems we’ve been a bit trained to think of enthusiasm as someone in a cheerleader uniform, nodding and clapping, complete with pom-poms and tuck jumps.
This really isn’t what enthusiasm is about at all. (Although by all means, none of those things could probably hurt. Especially the tuck jumps.)
Enthusiasm is an intense interest. An eagerness to see something through.
Zeal. Gusto. A fire in your belly.
Enthusiasm doesn’t belong only to the extroverted, outgoing, gregarious types.
Anyone can possess it and everyone should, if they really want to accomplish something worthwhile.
Enthusiasm will get us through the time when we’re feeling all hate and no love, all criticism and no support.
Do you have a fire in your belly for the change you’re trying to bring about? If not, it’s going to be awfully easy to get derailed by people who never had your best interests in mind to begin with.
It’s easy to sit back, cast blame, complain about what’s not right and condemn those that try to do something about it. It’s also easy to stay in a place, be it a job, relationship or committee, that you’ve lost all zest for.
If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, learn to accept it. If you can’t accept it, let it go. When you feel this way, the only answer that isn’t acceptable is to stay and be critical.
Everyone loves to say “Be the change you want to see in the world”…until a change needs to be made.
Pay attention to what’s going on your world. Be a catalyst for change.
Develop your personal moxie, find willing collaborators, take initiative and fuel the fire of enthusiasm in your belly.
Your world depends on it.