Monday, February 14, 2011

Advocate improvements in lieu of criticizing

I spent a recent Christmas with my Grandpa. When I arrived on Christmas eve, we talked about healthcare reform and government and such. He criticized Obama about a half dozen times in different ways, and also criticized the healthcare reform bill and government spending and Medicare changes and the US as "policeman of the world." I noticed he didn't propose too many solutions.

"Criticism and pessimism destroy families, undermine institutions of all kinds, defeat nearly everyone, and spread a shroud of gloom over entire nations.” - Gordon B. Hinckley

This incident reminded me of countless conversations over the last decade that I've participated in or overheard which criticized teachers, government, school, policies, war efforts, spending habits, grading methods, degree requirements, Congressional inaction, corrupt officials, polluting businesses, etc. I have found that these types of comments and dialog are very common on campus, and not infrequent off. I remember the culture of criticism I have encountered in most every workplace I've labored (e.g. the Government Accountability Office or Especially for Youth or the Idaho Supreme Court). 
I also remember a conversation with a woman six months ago who decried the deplorable state of the Constitution in our country, and how it has been warped and twisted and how we have departed so far from it. Having just completed a Constitutional Law course, and working at the time for a Supreme Court Justice who spent most of his day-to-day labor striving to give proper and consistent efficacy to the state constitution, I wanted to know her perspective and what she meant. My probes for specifics or clarification of her meaning were fruitless - her criticism, though vehement, proved at best superficial. She had no firm idea of what she was criticizing.

"I would take one activist over one thousand critics."

Though criticism shows that one cares (which is a step above apathy, certainly), a critique doesn't of itself suggest a candidate solution- and if there's an important problem, a solution is called for. I think a sort of general duty exists on inhabitants of this planet to improve it somewhat before they leave it. (See Gen. 2:15 and D & C 58:27)

I wish I could recall or find a quote I remember reading by Hugh Nibley: something along the lines of, "If you really cared [about the issue], you'd be in the library, not choosing a side." The point is, we are quite prone to taking premature, critical stances on issues (global warming, population control policy, health care reform, government size, the war in Iraq, the performance of the current President). If a person really cared about that issue, rather than deciding where s/he "comes out" on the issue based on shallow shared perceptions, the person would research what insightful minds and researching hands have produced on the subject. I would add that the person who really cared about that issue would then advocate a solution likely to improve conditions in the area of interest. Mere criticism is not all bad, though.

Criticism has its virtues! Criticism can lead to clear problem identification, which is a necessary component of the decision analysis PrOACT model (define the problem, articulate objectives, generate alternatives, project consequences, grapple with trade-offs). Criticism often results in relationship building by providing a common ground (you think Bush is an imbecile? So do I, let's be friends!). Criticism can also serve a cathartic function, providing an outlet for negative emotions. Yet, the criticism consequence bundle also contains many substantial negative straws:

"Criticism, fault-finding, evil speaking--these are of the spirit of the day. They are in our national life. To hear tell these days, there is nowhere a man of integrity among those holding political office. In many instances this spirit has become the very atmosphere of university campuses. The snide remark, the sarcastic gibe, the cutting down of associates--these, too often, are of the essence of our conversation. In our homes wives weep and children finally give up under the barrage of criticism leveled by husbands and fathers. Criticism is the forerunner of divorce, the cultivator of rebellion, sometimes a catalyst that leads to failure." - Gordon B. Hinckley

Upon reflection I conclude that I am a card carrying member of the Critics Club! I participate too frequently in these critical forays. In a world of limited attention/passion/focus/volition capital, I would like to lose my membership. To make this blog internally consistent, I need to advocate an improvement rather than merely criticize my own criticism. So, what do I propose to spend my capital in more constructive endeavors?

I can use my critical impulses as triggers to 1) research the issue in greater depth, 2) remind myself there are probably strong arguments supporting the counter to my position, and/or 3) advocate a viable solution. 

1 comment:

  1. I like this post brad. I agree with it. You mentioned briefly in your paragraph about the virtues of criticism a point that a friend of mine made. Sometimes I don't have a good solution. That certainly doesn't I shouldn't do more research, or work hard at finding a solution/alternative, but sometimes it's worth pointing out things that are wrong before an adequate solution is found.


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