The Dynamics Of Criticism

Most of us realize that for us to grow as individuals we can benefit from critiques by our friends and loved ones, especially mentors and others who have that unique ability of giving us guidance without putting us down.

To listen to a respected adviser when they suggest that we behave in a better way or explain to us how our current way of thinking is not beneficial to us in the long run, is the hallmark of a person who is serious about growing into their full potential.

The problem is that for every respected adviser that are hundreds of others who are unqualified to help us and rather than share helpful critiques they visit criticism upon us by the boat load.  Their motives have less to do with helping us and more to do with building up themselves at our expense.

As my dear old dad used to tell me, anyone can tear down, but only the gifted and creative people can build up.  Unfortunately, most criticism is mean-spirited and aimed at tearing down another person and in the process building themselves up.  Few are the criticizers that realize that by their criticisms they are revealing how deeply troubled are they themselves.

Criticism can be delivered in many ways, but the most insidious is to question another about “Why they did this thing and not that” or simply why they did something a certain way.  On the surface it appears to be merely a question of interest, but in reality it delivers the hidden message that the other person is defective.  To attempt to defend against such an attack only invites more details of the defectiveness and the last state turns out worse than the first.

A common form of criticism is delivered with the use of superlatives. The criticizer uses phrases like, “You always do that or you never do this or that.” In truth, life is not one superlative after another.  We rarely do something a certain way all the time, nor do we never do this or that.  That kind of accusation is designed to knock us back on our heels so that we cannot logically defend ourselves.

Criticism that is delivered incessantly from one person to another is the worst case scenario that a human can face.  Day after day, the barrage of criticism without let-up creates deep problems within the person receiving it.  A pall of sadness is the least of the problems and on the other extreme is the desire to leave that critical environment in search of one that is more accepting and tolerant.  Indeed, to maintain basic sanity may require just that solution.

Parents criticize children, often with the best of intentions, but there is a thin line between imparting useful, helpful information and crippling the child with what turns out to be rightfully called, psychological abuse of the child.  Is there any wonder that the number of runaways is substantial?

Spouses criticize spouses, and when it becomes incessant criticism every day for years, the desire to bolt and run from it can lead to separation and divorce.  It has been noted that those closest to us are often the ones who hurt us the most.  They know our vulnerabilities, our weakness, and the attack of criticism is often surgically aimed at just those weaknesses.

What can we do in the face of incessant crippling criticism? The first step is to call it what it is to the criticizer.  Next, we should set limits within ourselves to how much criticism we will tolerate.  Finally, we should plan our end game to make it stop.  Counselling should certainly be part of that.  Ask specifically for coping mechanisms to defuse the effect of the criticism and for professional advice on how to proceed beyond that.

The good Lord wants us to have a peaceful, orderly life in which to grow and mature and find meaning in the part of the world in which we are planted.  From that vantage point we are then able to help those around us grow and find their maturity and productive place in the world. It is time for criticism to end and for civility to reign.


Cost of Discipleship

Homily, Sep 7-8, 2013: Cycle C, 23rd Sun of Ord Time (Cost of Discipleship)

Our Gospel today starts with words that sound like Headline News, “GREAT CROWDS TRAVELING WITH JESUS…”

It almost makes Jesus sounds like a Rock Star, complete with Groupies & a Posse, in today’s vernacular.

Many of our famous personalities today would love to have that kind of adulation of the crowds, and find themselves mobbed when they appear in public. They would consider that “success”.

During his public life, Jesus had some of that star quality that we recognize in those personalities who capture the public’s imagination today. He wasn’t always bantering back and forth with the Pharisees – He was doing some pretty incredible things.

In a world that was much simpler than ours, Jesus must have been a sensation in otherwise drab, dreary and poverty-ridden lives.

Stories probably spread like wildfire about the healings He performed, the miracles, feeding more than 5,000, and walking on water, and raising the dead.

Of course, there was considerable time lag between when He performed the deeds and when people heard the stories, since it would still be 2000 years in the future before the appearance of “Smartphones & Email.”

Jesus knew that His Heavenly Father used signs & wonders out of love and compassion for those who were hurting & had no other recourse.  He also used them to draw attention to the saving message of His Son, though many came for all the wrong reasons.

After a while, Jesus could see it was time to stop all the adulation over His actions, otherwise His followers would miss His real meaning of His message, so…

In today’s Gospel, Jesus confronts the miss-directed attention. He turns to the crowd & says words that were shocking to His hearers – and to us:

He says, “If anyone comes to me without hating father & mother, wife & children, brothers & sisters, and yes, his own life, that person cannot be my disciple.”

Surely we have a contradiction here. Jesus, who tells us to love our enemies, now tells us to hate our nearest and dearest?  Clearly, He is using the literary device of exaggeration, hyperbole, to get their attention.

Of all the Gospels, Luke’s Gospel presents the following of Jesus in the most radical terms. In following Jesus, we have to accept totally His way of seeing life & then putting that into practice in the way we live ours.

There cannot be a wishy-washy compromise, trying to have our cake and eat it too, according to Luke.

Here’s the hard part! The majority of us follow a lifestyle largely dictated by the surrounding culture and our goals are the goals of that culture and, somewhere in there, we try to fit in some aspects of Christian living.

In most of our modern, urban societies, that lifestyle is competitive, consumer oriented, & materialistic. It is very difficult to reconcile our Christianity with that lifestyle.

So, it is precisely to people like us that Jesus is speaking.  What is He saying to us?  What is He calling us to do in today’s Gospel?

He is calling each of us to discipleship, to close relationship with Him, no matter what our culture is saying. Remember He used that exact word.

He is calling each of us to measure the cost of that discipleship and choose Him anyway.  Remember His words about calculating the cost of building a tower & the king calculating his chances against an opposing king.  In fact, better than ½ of the Gospel is devoted to counting the cost.

He is calling each of us to enter into His saving work with Him by helping those around us to find Him, to draw close to Him.

He wants us to grow in spiritual maturity so that we can stand up to our culture & affect it, rather than the other way around, and treat others as He treats them.

He is calling each of us to widen our tent pegs, that’s a Biblical term meaning, to enlarge our responsibility, to accept not just our families but members of our wider family – people to whom we may not be attracted, or people who come from different backgrounds than our own.  We see an example…

…in our Second Reading today from Paul to Philemon. We heard Paul asking Philemon, to accept his run-a-way slave, Onesimus, as a brother since Paul has converted him to Christianity and is sending him back to Philemon, his owner.

We are called to love and compassion for every single person, regardless of who they are or what their relationship may be to us.  We are to recognize that we belong to one large family & are all brothers & sisters.

Be assured, there is a cost in doing those things, our culture will reject us just as surely as it rejected Him.

But, you know, at some point in our journey through this life, we need to decide that we are going to follow Jesus no matter what others think. He is our Savior & He wants our help building the Kingdom.

In the film, Titanic, the filmmaker shows us the story of that terrible event through the 101-year-old eyes of one of the survivors, Rose.

She recalls the heroic highs & the bitter lows of human behavior in the midst of that tragic accident.

In a classic line near the end, she said of one of her shipmates who helped her overcome difficult social situations onboard & ultimately helped her physically survive and lost his life in the process, “He saved me in every possible way.”

Sounds like something you would say about the Lord Himself, doesn’t it.

What a wonderful epitaph!

Hopefully, we can live our lives following Jesus so closely that someone, somewhere, someday can say that same thing about us!