Critique is essential in the face of injustice.
Critical analysis can also be a pathway to vision. Getting clear about what is unsatisfactory can help us recognize what would be deeply satisfying.
However, critique can become a severely limiting habit. When left unchecked, this habit can create more distance than ever between current inadequacies and revolutionary improvements.
Have you ever found yourself venting, repeatedly, about someone's behavior, knowing that you cannot change it? I have. Have you ever continued to gripe even after realizing that no matter how much you complain, you don't feel any better? I sure have. It's not a choice I make, and that's just it. Eventually I recognize that I do have a choice and that my complaining to anyone who will listen is a waste of time and good energy. I would much prefer to ask myself how I want to be in the face of this thing that I cannot change, and put my energy there. I have to practice making this choice, over and over. It doesn't just happen for me.
It is so enticing to critique what we are against. I am able to notice the habit in others and still manage to use blinders on myself.
The tricky thing about habits is that we rarely see ourselves doing them. Or rather, we do not see habits doing us.
How can we possibly disrupt “critique mode,” even when we have no idea that we are doing it—again?
Our first quest is to recognize the habit.
To reveal potential signs of being in critique mode, try observing, for example, your relationships at work. Try asking these questions:
We can also pay attention to our moods, and the feelings that trigger an unchecked rant. When we find ourselves critiquing inadequacies more than conceiving new possibilities, chances are good that our lens is being compromised due to a mood that has us rooted in things past. Maybe unrecognized guilt, anger, resentment or sadness is working through us, and actually driving our actions?
Or perhaps we are betting on the future: worrying, dreading, predicting, or feeling resigned that things are hopeless?
Dwelling too much in the past or future limits our awareness of options available to us right here and now.
For me it's helpful, before speaking, to ask myself: “What is the mood I wish to create?” And whenever possible, I ask my colleagues: “What can we agree to be for, and create together?” Habits are sticky, but such questions can intervene to enliven our present power.
It is a joy for us at SEED when the organizations we coach make the choice to focus on their internal operations as they attempt new social justice practices. It is a thrill when we see them stay the course to gain traction creating new habits that better serve their missions. We are all in this together. Our ability to observe ourselves (and support each other) is the most powerful tool.