You Can Literally Do the World’s Toughest Rock Climb and People Will Still Find Something to Criticize

So after seven years of planning and preparation, and nearly three weeks of grueling effort and inspiring teamwork, two guys succeed at literally the toughest rock climb in history and some people can still find something to criticize.

When I first spotted the critical comments alongside the New York Times articles on Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell’s Yosemite Dawn Wall free climb I couldn’t believe it! They seemed not just petty and banal, but completely insensible to the awesomeness and beauty of what these guys were doing.

Turns out I wasn’t the only one who noticed them.’s Brendan Leonard compiled some in his article NY Times Commenters Explain Why The Dawn Wall Climb Is Dumb. Here’s a sample:

  • “They have supplies delivered to them!? That’s like climbing with a porter. Not legit.”
  • “Impressive, but nowhere near as impressive as actually free solo climbing without any ropes, where one slip would mean certain death….The only serious risk here is failure, which is no big deal.”
  • “Sorry, but who really cares? Do something that genuinely makes a difference in the world. This is just the latest non-event. Yawnnnnnnn…”
  • “I would appreciate NYT doing an analysis of how such undertakings affect the average tax payer.” (HR comment: Extra points to this person for knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.)
  • “I do not climb. Just watching makes me ill with fear. Then there are those who react the same way to my going 170 MPH in competitive ‘traffic’.” (HR comment: Extra points to this person for managing to get in a brag at the same time he (or she) denigrates the climbers. And note how he equates a truly pointless and stupid “achievement”–reckless driving–with Jorgeson and Caldwell’s historic achievement.)
  • “Strikes me as a dumb way to spend one’s time. Dangerous, and for what purpose? A thrill. One should devote such considerable energies to something more constructive.”

As Jonathan Swift succinctly put it, “When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.”

This is all very entertaining, but what does it have to do with productivity? Plenty–first because it helps us put our own critics into perspective. Apparently there is no achievement so exalted that some people won’t find something to criticize–so don’t take your own critics to heart. (See, also, this page of rejection letters received by Madonna, Kurt Vonnegut, Andy Warhol, and other highly successful people.)

Next, because it illustrates the utter uselessness of unconstructive criticism.

Constructive criticism is golden; unconstructive criticism is worse than a waste of time because it undermines you. One way to tell them apart is that a constructive critic respects your endeavor and seeks to support it, while an unconstructive one is typically persuing his (or her) own agenda and/or speaking out of emotional need. (Envy, bitterness, contemptuousness, and cynicism predominate.)

Constructive criticism also tends to be specific to the situation; unconstructive criticism generic and banal.

Also, note how some of the unconstructive criticism above is perfectionist in that it seeks to belittle an astoundingly difficult endeavor by saying it wasn’t hard enough. Perfectionism is by definition delusional, and so perfectionist critiques are always invalid.

There’s no benefit to responding to naysayers and cynics–it truly is a waste of time. So, if you’re getting unconstructive criticism you need to (seriously) find a new crowd. The goal really is to surround yourself only with supporters who offer constructive criticism.

My guess is that Caldwell and Jorgeson are pretty much immune to petty critics or else they wouldn’t have achieved as much as they have. And, fortunately, most people understand the awesomeness of their achievement. This cool New York Times comment says it all:

  • “Were it not for the people like Caldwell and Jorgeson, in all the myriad fields of human endeavor, we would be nothing as a culture. It is the same spirit of saying yes to the seeming impossible that animated the AG Bells and Coltranes and Beethovens and Einsteins of the world.”

Congratulations to Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell and all the strivers!

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