Compulsive Criticism

Recently I read something on-line that gave me pause. A blogger I’ve been following for many years now had this to say:

We were talking about the habit of being critical—discussing a person we both knew who was caustically critical (and often entertainingly insulting) about everything. She said she didn’t quite approve of that attitude, because it was so safe.

I was surprised by that word, and asked her what she meant, and she said—more or less—that hating or criticizing everything was safe because it meant you don’t have to take a stand. Liking something means you are opening yourself up; if nothing is good enough for you it’s another way of saying you’re superior to everything. Very smug, very snug. Being insulting and critical, admittedly a position of attack when face-to-face, is psychologically actually a position of retreat.

This did not appear on a Catholic blog, nor a political blog; it appeared on a Photography blog, and the thing being criticized was, oddly, the new Chevy Corvette. But the blogger, Michael Johnson, could have gone one step further: he could have pointed out that this attitude is spiritually and morally corrosive. And that’s something we in the Catholic blogosphere need to remember. There’s much in our culture to criticize—but we must never let it become a knee-jerk reaction, lest we fail to see the good in your rush to condemn the bad.

In short, we mustn’t emulate Prof. Quincy Adams Wagstaff:

  • By Julie D., February 4, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

    Teddy Roosevelt had something more to say about habitual critics.
    http://www.theodore-roosevelt.com/trsorbonnespeech.html

    Anton Ego puts it succinctly: “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so….”

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