We Live in a Hyper-Critical Culture? Are You Too Critical?
I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about us – though I may be talking about you. Care to find out?
Full disclosure: I admit I can be hyper-critical/too critical, and I suppose I am that way because I am by default a fallible human and because being critical is a part of my training and calling as a pastor so as to identify, refute and protect against false doctrines. Additionally I have become accustomed to critiquing methods for ministry so I can make decisions about what works best. I am by nature and environment wired for criticism.
This spills over into other parts of life as well. For instance, I might be watching a college or professional football game and the quarterback makes an ill-advised throw that results in an interception. If the quarterback is playing for my team I will probably think or say something like, “What in the world was he thinking and doing? I could have made that throw.” Ummmm, reality check; I have never made it on the field to play college or pro football, and even if I had I doubt I could currently back up my claim.
We live in a time that seems to assume we have the inalienable rights to life, love and the pursuit of criticizing others. Take politics as an example. It is standard practice to criticize the other party or political opponent for the most inane things. Candidates criticize each other for having too much money, where and when they vacation, causing hurricanes, and so forth and so on. And by the way, sometimes the criticism is valid, but many times it just serves as filler for the 24 hour news cycle.
So let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water because the Bible portrays for us that there are substantive reasons for being critical and there are ways to criticize. For example, Paul in Galatians was quite critical of the people he was writing to, saying they were foolish and bewitched (Galatians 3:1) and that some of them were potentially damned (Galatians 1:8-9). As the preacher said in Ecclesiastes, “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” (Ecc. 3:1)
So yes, we can be way too critical, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be critical. Which begs the question of how then do we know if we are being too critical? Here are 5 indicators you (myself included) might be too critical:
- You criticize without relationship. If someone knows me and I trust them, I am very willing to receive criticism because I know I can trust them and they have good intentions. If there exists no trust between us because we have no relationship, the criticism is probably going to make me defensive and not receptive. Someone might respond, “Well, what is public is fair game for criticism.” That’s fair. But do you have to criticize publicly everything that is public. Some people just can’t help themselves, and that is worth some self-examination.
- You criticize and expect to be thanked for it. This person is constantly criticizing and their intent may be to help, but they are surprised when no one thanks them for exclusively criticizing. These kinds of people are generally avoided and so they conclude that it is always for the reason that they are the only ones who will tell it like it is. Maybe, but it could be they need to exercise a little balance in what they say.
- You enjoy criticizing and therefore do it frequently. This goes a bit with the previous and following indicator, but if a person is constantly and personally criticizing others, especially those they don’t have relationship with, there’s a high likelihood that they are overly critical. Criticism should be given with a lot of prior thought and it should be done with the understanding that it is best to carefully pick the hills we are willing to die for. We only have so much trust capital with people by which we can critique them. We better be wise about picking our spots.
- You are never satisfied. This person drives down the road and the person that goes faster than them is a reckless maniac, but the person who goes too slow is an idiot for not going as fast as the critic. Everyone on the road, and for that matter in the world, is thinking and doing it wrong.
- You constantly find yourself in the minority. There’s a time to be in the minority and stand for convictions, but if we find ourselves there almost perpetually, the problem may not be everyone else. We might consider pointing the finger back at our own person and critiquing ourselves.
And that seems to be what the Bible would have us do in the first place. I can’t help others until I have first been helped. I shouldn’t judge others until I have first judged myself by the truth. I hope each of us will be as critical of ourselves as we are of everyone else. That might be the most helpful indicator of all.