Thursday, February 17, 2011

Critical Thinking

“Before investigating, find no fault; examine first, then criticize. Before hearing, answer not, and interrupt no one in the middle of his speech. Dispute not about what is not your concern; in the strife of the arrogant take no part.” Sirach 11: 7-9

Take a few moments to stop and look at the people around you and listen to what they are saying. It might be at home, or school or work, or just out to lunch. The reality is that we live in a culture consumed with being critical. And everyone feels it is their right to criticize whoever they want for whatever they want, whether it is their business, or whether they know the person or not, or whether they have any information that gives them the right to criticize the person or situation.

Look on facebook and many teens are ripping their parents, their teachers, their friends. Go on blogs or YouTube or online articles and the comments are filled with vitriol and hate. For every compliment about an article or video, there are at least 15 criticisms. Watch or listen to the talking heads on radio and TV and most are critical of everyone and everything most of the time. I guess ratings go down when they are nice.

You can even look at the most beautiful paintings, or read the most beautiful poems or hear the most beautiful music and there will be someone out there who will criticize them. And you know what being critical does to others? It steals their joy. Think about it: how often have you been in a good mood, only to be brought crashing down because someone was critical of you, something you like, or something you did. When I was growing-up, I remember my mom saying to me many times (I am ashamed to admit), “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I tended to be an intense kid (still am I guess) and it was easy for me in my pride to find fault in others quickly or to put down something I thought was inferior.

Of course I am not saying that we shouldn’t think critically—in fact it is dangerous not to. Without critical thinking skills, we end up mindlessly following whatever whim or fancy beguiles us from moment to moment and we become complacent and live at the mercy of our ignorance and emotions. But so often this critical thinking turns into a justification to stomp on someone else’s feelings by verbalizing it without thought, without authority and without love. People might argue that Jesus was critical of the Pharisees and that at times He was not nice in His dealings with them. While this is true, Jesus was God and He knew their hearts, investigated their thoughts, motives and actions and then He passed judgment as He has the authority to do. And His rebukes were filled with a righteous indignation born out of a mysterious blend of His justice and mercy that you and I do not possess.

The lesson is that while there are certainly times when being critical are justified, those times are most certainly much fewer and farther between the amounts of times we criticize at present. So the next time you or I are tempted to pass judgment and verbalize a quick and cutting criticism on another’s thoughts, words or actions, perhaps we could stop, take a deep breath, pray and decide if we have listened intently, investigated thoroughly and have the authority to effectively criticize with love so that the result is positive, or if we should just keep our mouths shut.

Dear Jesus, help me to be less critical of others. I do not want to steal anyone’s joy. Help me to be quick to listen and slow to anger. Give me the grace to draw people to You through my kindness and allow You to be the judge of their hearts. Amen.

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