It’s not really about the criticism itself. It’s about who’s doing it, and what role they’re supposed to have within the group.
“Where’s the line?” is a question that plagues every group of people united around a common cause.
Where’s the line between stubbornness and conviction?
Where’s the line between moderation and capitulation?
Where’s the line between boldness and foolishness? Or idealism and extremism?
Not all of these dilemmas have easy answers.
But there’s one—the dilemma of when internal criticism goes “too far”—that I think is more of a misunderstanding than an actual dilemma.
It’s an interesting coincidence that right now, we’re currently embroiled in a national debate over whether the protests of NFL players against racial injustice go too far.
Because when I think about the relationship between loyalty and criticism, I think back to when I was younger, and played football and lots of other team sports.
In all sports, at all ages, whenever we lost, the coach would tell us to keep our head up, and that there were things we needed to improve on, starting with the next practice.
When we won, the coach would tell us to enjoy the victory—but there were still plenty of things we needed to improve on, starting with the next practice.
No matter what the outcome was, the coach was always urging us to improve, to do better, to live up to the high standards we’d set for ourselves.
Doesn’t it seem a bit odd that when a coach criticizes his team, nobody questions his loyalty?
In fact, we recognize that it’s precisely because he’s loyal that he’s willing to say the hard truths, and keep pushing his players.
Why is it when Bill Belichick does it, he’s a Hall-of-Famer…or when parents do it, it’s “tough love”…but when progressives do it, they “hate America?”
Because it’s not really about the criticism itself.
It’s about who’s doing it, and what role they’re supposed to have within the group.
When an authority figure criticizes, that’s one thing.
When somebody criticizes during a time set aside for debate, that’s fine too.
It’s when people are perceived to be acting with authority they aren’t supposed to have, mucking up the work of the group, and causing a disturbance that their loyalty is called into question.
The protestors are told to protest some other way, and go through standard procedures—when it’s precisely the lack of “other ways” that has led them to protest in the first place.
No matter how these grievances are ultimately resolved, let’s not question the loyalty of people who criticize their country, or any other group.
They do it because, like a coach or a parent, they care.
They want the group to improve, to do better.
As George McGovern once said: “The highest patriotism is not a blind acceptance of official policy, but a love of one’s country deep enough to call her to a higher standard.”
It’s never an either-or choice between loyalty and criticism.
In fact, sometimes loyalty requires criticism.
This is the 139th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.