Criticism to Critical Thinking (Idols to Symbols)

Recently I happened to hear a sermon where the priest invited the people to move from a criticizing mentality to a critical mentality. Yes, we might be living in a technologically advanced world, but thinking always doesn’t happen so naturally. Technology may happen natural to us, but not necessarily thinking. Even education may not be a big help in that. But I think, we do have the resources within us to think. Probably we need to start using the same.

  • Criticism looks for what’s lacking/Critique finds what’s working or what could work better
  • Criticism condemns what it doesn’t understand/Critique asks for clarification
  • Criticism is spoken with a cruel wit and sarcastic tongue/Critique’s voice is kind, honest, and objective
  • Criticism is negative/Critique is positive (even about what isn’t working)
  • Criticism is vague and general/Critique is concrete and specific
  • Criticism has no sense of humor/Critique insists on laughter, too
  • Criticism attacks the person/Critique addresses the work that is before you.

[Taken from Writing Alone, Writing Together; A Guide for Writers and Writing Groups by Judy Reeves]

Human Beings are symbolic animals. We use a lot of metaphors and symbols in our conversation and in our dealing with reality. If I ask what is hard, many of us would say stone/rock is hard. We are not giving a mathematical or scientific definition for hardness, but uses some symbols to define the same. But it is also true that stone is the hardest thing. Symbols and metaphors help us in our communication, especially when we speak of realities where precise definitions are difficult.

As Kuruvilla Pandikattu would say, the question is, can our symbols remain symbols and not become idols.

  • Symbol points toward the reality; idol is equated with reality.
  • For religious people, it is good to ask whether our statues are symbols (pointing to God) or idols (Statue is God itself).

I think the domain of symbols will be more connected to the realm of critique and domain of idols will be more connected to the realm of criticism. Does it make sense? Criticisms arise because we are not able to see the possibilities (idols). When we can see the possibilities (symbols), we do critique. Our Spirituality and spiritual practices are an invitation to move from the realm of criticisms (idols) to the realm of critique (symbols).

Now when we look at the political situation around the world (with ultra-right or extreme right wing and ultra left wing or extreme left wing governments), I feel they have reached the level of idols. Now if somebody asks a question, what is India? Many Indians would give a lot of answers. Some of them could be that India is a secular country, democratic country, a Hindu majority country, country of unity in diversity and so on. All these are different symbols (answers) of that reality called India. But Some would like to take one of the symbol called a Hindu majority country (It is a fact that Hindus are majority here) and make it an idol called (Hindu majoritarianism). As long as it was considered a symbol, discussions and opposing views were permissible. Once it becomes an idol, opposing views are considered as criticisms, which needs to be crushed thoroughly.

A country could have different facets like culture, religion, development, happiness of the citizens, equality, justice and so on. When the elections becomes anchored on one of the facets (like religion/culture) and forget the other dimensions, we are again in the realm of idols. They try to equate country with a religion, which is quite bad.

In the election season, what is my role? I think it could be,

  1. Encourage and Take Part in Critical Discussions, rather than being part of blind criticisms
  2. To stop converting symbols into idols. (Don’t equate one facet of a person/organization/country with that person/organization/county. Respect the multi-faceted nature).
  3. A culture of criticisms to a Culture of Critical thinking.
  4. Start Thinking…. especially in matters related to politics and religion and take active part.
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