Justin Langer: Navigating the barbs of keyboard warriors and what might help your kids

Justin Langer
The Nightly
7 Min Read
Justin Langer has some advice for those dealing with keyboard warriors.
Justin Langer has some advice for those dealing with keyboard warriors. Credit: AAP

“Hey Langer, get Graeme Wood on strike, you are so boring. Better still, just get out. You are useless.”

At 20 years of age, and in my Sheffield Shield debut for WA, a bloke from the crowd shouted this ‘advice’ to me from the grandstand at the WACA. There weren’t many people at the ground that day, so his words shot through me like a molten spear.

Truthfully, I was completely shattered, embarrassed, and wanted the earth to open up and swallow me whole.

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This was my first experience of public criticism, and it wasn’t nice. Here I was trying my best to survive the onslaught from Victoria’s fast bowler’s, including Merv Hughes, current Australian selector Tony Dodemaide, and past Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland, and some hero in the crowd is throwing his two bobs’ worth in as well.

So distracted was I, that I was out a few balls later and walked off with my tail between my legs.

Shattered to be dismissed was one thing, demoralised by a stranger was another. I think the latter hurt the most, because I wasn’t sure how to deal with it as the experience was relatively new to me.

Interestingly, the other thing I remember about that incident 33 years ago, was seeing my uncle walk over to this bloke and give him a return serve that he would probably still remember today.

We have laughed about it since, but that confrontation reminds me that it’s not only the person getting abused who gets hurt, but it’s also their friends and family who feel it as well.

We all know that feeling when you find out your kids or siblings are getting bullied at school, or your daughters have been treated poorly by a boyfriend or husband.

It is horrible, and we want to get our fighting shoes on. We want to protect those closest to us and there is no worse feeling than seeing your loved ones being disrespected or hurt by others.

Best mates: Justin Langer is congratulated by his dad Colin Langer after a cricketing victory for Australia. Jack Atley
Best mates: Justin Langer is congratulated by his dad Colin Langer after a cricketing victory for Australia. Jack Atley Credit: Jack Atley/ Jack Atley

Three games after my debut for WA, I played a game of cricket in Brisbane. Luckily, I scored a century. To be fair it wasn’t the prettiest to watch, but early in my career, like so many athletes, I found the going tough.

Regardless, I was proud that I found a way to make a tonne in only my third game.

Two things stand out about that innings.

One was the sledging I received from a couple of the Queenslanders. They were telling me how embarrassed my family would be to watch me bat the way I was. Their words were brutal, but all in the name of distracting me so I would make a mistake like I did in my debut. Although I remember this barrage, I knew it was a part of the game back then.

What rattled me more was the article written the following morning. The journalist basically wrote that I had limited talent — despite scoring a century — and that I was a limited cricket prospect at that level.

At the time I felt like rolling up in the foetal position and crying myself to sleep. I was horrified, but thankfully I had a few senior players around me, specifically Wayne Andrews, who mentored me through the experience and taught me strategies to overcome the critics.

The reason for writing all this is that I look at the changing landscape we live in today.

Once upon a time it was the single bully in the schoolyard (the man in the grandstand), or a journalist whose article was published once a day in a newspaper that was thrown on your doorstep by a kid on a bike.

Now we have 24-7 media outlets and scores of journos scampering for a story. With a public scrolling through their phones always looking for the latest headline, content needs to be created. That means someone’s tweet or comment or opinion can suddenly fill space and get a platform that wasn’t even available just a few years ago.

Worse, we now have the keyboard warriors, who can literally write whatever they like, be as vulgar as they choose, without ramifications. They are far worse than the bully in the grandstand or the experienced journalist with a view, because they are completely unaccountable, faceless and can be dangerous.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones, hopefully because of the way I generally carry myself, but even I am shocked and appalled by some of the comments thrown my way by the faceless critic. Frankly, I don’t understand why people feel a need to throw their ill-intentioned poison at complete strangers.

For the past year I have written this column and I have been overwhelmed by the positive feedback, at times by friends, mostly from complete strangers. But there have been other times when readers have written in the comments section things like, “you are such a loser”, “Langer, your articles are so boring”, “your ego is out of control”, “you are the worst writer I have ever read”.

Thanks for your opinion, but seriously?

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 25: Australia head coach Justin Langer reacts during an Australian Ashes squad nets session at Melbourne Cricket Ground on December 25, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mike Owen/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 25: Australia head coach Justin Langer reacts during an Australian Ashes squad nets session at Melbourne Cricket Ground on December 25, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mike Owen/Getty Images) Credit: Mike Owen/ Mike Owen

What would be great is that if you have an opinion or constructive opinion, send me an email, or write me a letter and I would love to meet you and discuss your thoughts. But if it is just an angry, contextless view, then I would rather give you a hug and help you through your anger and insecurities. I am certain most people in life would respect this, not just those in the public arena.

Equally, before you share your overzealous view, ask yourself: “Have I walked in that person’s shoes before? Have I ever made a mistake in my life? How did I go when I had to make a tough decision, or have an uncomfortable conversation? Why does it make me feel good to criticise or hurt another person?”

Rather than taking out your insecurity, ignorance, or in the very worst cases just plain cruelty on others, maybe take a breath and think about it first.

When you are in the public eye, or in leadership positions, I get it is part of the role to absorb the pressure, take the hits and keep bouncing back. We understand these challenges come with the territory, even though they can be the source of frustration, and at times, hurt.

What concerns me is how our less-equipped kids, colleagues, friends and family deal with the scrutiny of criticism.

The best advice I can give is this.

In the world of populist rubbish where followers, likes, clicks and impressions seems to be the order of the day, remember, you don’t need strangers telling you how good you are. Even more importantly, you don’t need strangers telling you how bad you are. Trust your instincts. You know how you are performing, recognise and respect that.

When things are going well, enjoy the moment with those who really matter. When things aren’t going to plan, surround yourself with the people who really matter. They are the ones who will help get you through, not the strangers who have shallow, ignorant, misinformed advice.

In other words, stick tight to people who know you, care for you, and have your back. They are the ones who offer you the best, most constructive feedback when you need it. They are also the ones who will be with you through thick and thin. Choose them wisely.

Also remember that if you need strangers boosting your ego with compliments when things are going well, you can be sure they will destroy your confidence in equal measure when they aren’t. My experience is that this form of advice is far more detrimental than the superficial pats on the back.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 18:  Justin Langer of Australia celebrates after Australia's victory on day five of the third Ashes Test Match between Australia and England at the WACA on December 18, 2006 in Perth, Australia.  Australia's victory in the third Test Match means they regain the Ashes.  (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)
PERTH, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 18: Justin Langer of Australia celebrates after Australia's victory on day five of the third Ashes Test Match between Australia and England at the WACA on December 18, 2006 in Perth, Australia. Australia's victory in the third Test Match means they regain the Ashes. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images) Credit: Paul Kane/Getty Images

The next strategy for me is know the truth. Trust the truth. Always speak the truth. This will set you free as they say.

Finally, and probably something almost impossible in this world where we are addicted to our mobile phones and social media, don’t read it. Read things that inspire you, make you happy, feed your soul. There is so much good stuff on social media. Spend your time on that, not the content that will get you down. Don’t do it to yourself.

I know it’s easier to give advice than receive it, but I know I have felt most liberated when I ignore the critics — not the feedback — but the critics. And when I live in a world where I trust myself and those around me.

If worse comes to worse read Theodore Roosevelt’s ‘The Man in The Arena’ or watch a couple of episodes of ‘The Inspired (Impractical) Jokers’.

The first will give you perspective, the second, the laugh of your life, because at times if you don’t laugh you will cry.

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