Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The Blessing and Curse of a Critical Mind

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When we were kids, my siblings and I were the ones who would ALWAYS and IMMEDIATELY pick out the flaw in any movie we were watching, argument that anyone was proposing, or lecture that a teacher was giving. We were the annoying kids who always could play devil's advocate, or say 'But what about...?' Everyone knows someone like that, and boy, are they annoying.

When I was about 14, some of my friends decided to 'break up' with me because they found my over critical attitude unbearable (among other reasons, and yes, I'm over it, 13 years later). I would criticize everything and everybody.

As I have grow older, I've definitely grown in empathy, and have taken a good look at myself through others' eyes, and toned down the critical attitude quite a bit. But I haven't let it go completely. I was thinking about it yesterday (yes, I was critically thinking about thinking critically) and decided that it both a gift and a curse. (Yay, numbered lists ahoy!)

1. It is a curse because I cannot do ANYTHING without analyzing and carrying out debates in my head on every conceivable topic. It's like there's this person in my head, pointing out flaws, and I have to defend and explain my actions or a particular philosophy to them. That means I can rarely just sit down and enjoy anything. I can't switch it off. I am ALWAYS thinking "This would work better if..." or "That acting is so overdone!" or "If only the priest would read the mass announcements like he's really talking to people", etc. Or I'm wincing at shallow and jumpy mass 'hymns'... directly after receiving Communion.

2. I often see the flaw more clearly than I see the whole. Like noticing the black spot on the white sheet. I don't say 'Oh, what a wonderfully white sheet.' I say 'Ooh, black spot.' And of course that carries into relationships. Instead of thinking, "Well, that was a nice young man I just met", I'm thinking "Well, he was nice, but maybe he's a little too... predictable." So what if he is? Does that take away from his niceness? Is it important that I evaluate his personality, and pronounce a judgement on it?

3. It is so tiring to be around me! My poor friends and family have had to bear the brunt of my issues. Because all this stuff is going on in my head, it often comes out to the people I spend the most time with... and it drives them nuts. I have to 'talk it out'. If I heard a talk, or was in a situation that made me a little uncomfortable, I have to minutely examine what exactly about it was troubling me. After I'm done, I feel better, but maybe my poor audience is thinking about things that had never crossed their mind before.

4. It is too easy to be cynical about everything, to take off the rose-tinted glasses, and replace them with dark glasses, where the glass always seems half-empty. (Yay, mixing metaphors again!) And cynicism saps the joy out of everything. Seeing the worst possible motive for everything is draining. You can't move forward, because you're trying so hard to not slide backwards (with all those other fools).

5. Over critical people are often overly critical of themselves too. Even in the midst of doing something good, they can't feel good about it because they KNOW that there are some impure motives mixed in there. They often can't be wholly happily themselves, because they are critiquing themselves too, just as they critique the world around them.

6. It's pretty easy to go from criticizing, to judging, to writing people off, or labeling them. 

So you are saying at this point "Why the HECK haven't you let it go completely, Sue???"

Okay, this is where the blessing comes in.

I can't let it go, because I don't believe I was made to be a gullible naive idiot. God gave me the power of critical thinking for a reason.

1. I value truth. That means I won't say something is good unless I really thought it was good. I won't be a Christian unless I'm pretty sure that Christianity is true. I actually believe that there IS objective truth, so just seeing the good in everything isn't satisfying intellectually. Is anything better than anything else? If so, why? I'm willing to think. I'm willing to seek. If people will not seek, how will they find? If one is not willing to examine the truth or falsity of a particular assumption, how they know they are not living their lives based on a lie?

2. I'm not super-easy to fool. It's easier to see past the fakeness, the appearances, the lies that sometimes people even believe themselves. I'm not satisfied with easy answers. I had the doubtful triumph of having my suspicions about some con artist who recently came into my family's life proved true. I was the only one saying "Really? You believe all that? How do we know any of it is true?" My brother called me a suspicious conspiracy nut. All I can say is "I informed you thusly, P."

3. It's easier for me to explain my faith to others. I often give talks starting with the obvious questions and doubts that people have... because I've had the same questions and doubts. I'm not just forwarding a cliched 'Jesus loves you. Click Like if you believe' picture. I'm sharing my own intellectual faith journey, with all the questions that were answered... by asking hard questions. (I have not had all my questions answered, but enough to move forward.)

4. I not only see flaws, but I see how they can be fixed, or improved, or changed. Refusing to see a problem might be easier and more pleasant and annoy less people at the time, but in the long run, the problem is only going to get worse, and will most probably blow up in your face. Not looking at a problem does not mean the problem stops existing. It's a gift to not only see a problem, but to trace the problem to its roots, and propose a cure. Sometime I wish people would pay me to tell them what's wrong with them, and what they can do to improve. (Isn't that a consultant?) (I sometimes offer to go to Confession with my siblings, in case they forget their sins :-D)

5. The world needs prophets. Someone has to be the little boy shouting 'The Emperor's got no clothes on!' even when it makes everyone intensely uncomfortable, so they all try to shush you. The trick of course is when and how and to whom you mention that the Emperor is as naked as a wee babby. (Yes, Brave reference.) There are just too many lies floating around the world today, especially about the important stuff, especially in the morals and messages that Hollywood packages so nicely and sells us. (I like Fr. Robert Barron for some plain-speaking prophetic video commentaries about everything.)

6. It's more interesting to be around me, because I'm less likely to use tired cliches, or say what everyone expects me to say. It also increases the value of my praise a hundredfold. You know how little you value a compliment if it comes from someone who always says nice things to everyone as a matter of course. It's nice of them, of course, but it says more about them, than the person being complimented. If you want an honest evaluation, come to me.

So yes, I've decided not to completely switch off my critical thinking. It is a weapon that needs to be wielded very, very carefully though. But that's another blog post now, isn't it?

1 comment:

  1. Pt 4. made me laugh my guts out - where you remind your siblings of their sins. I wouldn't mind paying you to tell me what is wrong with me - i mean really. I've been a super critical chap and only a super duper critical person can make me understand my flaws. Why are we INTJ profiles like this??? Being super critical has cost me more than i can imagine now. Its better to tell the truth than beat around the bush and make it tiring! Upfront, straightforward is the best!