Criticism

The purpose of this post is to raise awareness, not to point the finger of blame, cause anyone to feel guilt, nor set myself up as a victim.  These musings are as much for my own benefit as that of others.

There has been a recent event that has given me reason for pause--to introspect on myself and on our society.  Conrad and I have decided to postpone our wedding.  The cause for introspection here arises from the reaction that decision made.  When Conrad and I first announced our engagement, there were many who expressed concern that perhaps we were rushing things and that we should slow down.  No doubt many people who offered such advice also had the secret hope that if we were to wait longer, we would come to the conclusion that entering a homosexual marriage is bad and therefore we would postpone indefinitely.  Be that as it may, many people expressed such concern.  However, upon announcing the postponement I did not receive expressions of relief in quite the same volume I had previously received expressions of concern at rushing.  What I did receive in that proportion was concern over the health of our relationship.

So, this caused me to ask myself why it is that these two reactions were given.  Let me branch out to other situations.  A republican candidate is often criticized by other republicans for being too liberal, while simultaneously criticized by democrats for being too conservative.  The same exact position/belief/action is met by criticism on both sides--criticisms that cannot be simultaneously followed, since they contradict so fully.  A teacher may be criticized by his students for being too harsh and by the administration by being too soft.  A gay Christian, trying to come to terms with his sexuality and reconcile that with his religious convictions, may be criticized by other gay people for clinging too much to his religion and by religious people for straying too far from the straight and narrow path.  It seems as though people are very quick to judge and to criticize.

I find that I am also very critical of others.  I have found myself chatting with a friend who wishes for me to be a listening ear, and while he is relaying his feelings to me I give advice, I state a differing perspective on the situation, and I ofttimes directly contradict the things my friend is saying.  So, now I ask myself, "Why do I feel like this is necessary?".  Indeed, it is more than likely that such criticism is not only unnecessary but also unwanted.

Why is it that we, as a race, are so critical?  Why do we tell other people what they should do with their lives?  We have a view of the way things should be--or should be done--and we want things to turn out the best way possible (i.e., "our way")?  We have a need to control others?  Is it pride--the thought that we have the best answer?

Sometimes, I suppose that when such statements are made, they are made merely as suggestions--a person truly intending only to relay their own opinion and not to actually imply that the opinion must be adopted or that that line of action must be taken.  So, I do believe there is a certain degree to which the person being criticized needs to develop a "thick skin", so to speak, to avoid being offended when such statements are made.  For example, the people expressing concern upon the announcement of our wedding being postponed truly did seem merely concerned--hoping that all was going well in our relationship, which did not offend me in the slightest.  It just made me wonder why such a thought would be among the first to pop up in someone's mind.

But, I would just like to pose the question "Do we really need to be as opinionated as we are?  Do we really need to offer as much criticism as we do?"  As the poetic words of the poignant hymn "We Are Sowing" so beautifully explain,
By a whisper sow we blessings;
By a breath we scatter strife.
In our words and thoughts and actions
Lie the seeds of death and life.
(v3, hymn #216 in the LDS hymnal)
We truly do have the power to help brighten someone's day or to cause their spirits to darken.  Some people feel pressure from every angle in their life, and it suffocates their very soul.  Some feel like no matter what they do they cannot please anyone, for the will always receive criticism from someone.

In making this realization, I ask myself "How would I feel if I learned that I had a friend contemplating suicide and my critical words were the very thing that tipped the scales of his decision?"  I realize that this scenario is extreme and with good probability may not ever occur in my lifetime, regardless of how critical I am.  But, even on the most microscopic scale, I believe my answer to the question is still the same.  Even if I'm just asking myself "If I can say one sentence that will reap a smile or another sentence to reap a tear, which will I say?"

Do I need to prove to myself that I'm always right?  Do I need to ensure that other people know how brilliant I am?  Even if I am full of good ideas, is it always wise to impose those ideas on others?  Or perhaps, is there simply a way I can relate the same sentiment--the same opinion--without coming across as judgmental?  Yes, there is a place for criticism and certainly for expressing your own opinion or belief to another person, even when it differs completely from their own.  I certainly don't mean to say otherwise.

I recently had a similar conversation with my wise mother.  She pointed out that one reason why we get angry at other people is because they have failed to meet up to some expectation we have of them in our own mind--that is to say, we are being critical of them.  Therefore, the best way to avoid becoming angry at another person is merely to assume that they are doing the best that they can, and to be contented with that.  If I treat you like you're smart enough to make your own decisions, are you not more likely to want to be my friend than if I offer my opinion at every turn, whether it is solicited or not?

This is going to be extremely difficult for me.  I know that any universal promise I make to be less critical will be in vain, since I will inevitably say harsh things.  I will, however, make a concerted effort to restrain my tongue in times when it is tempting to criticize another person.