Negativity

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PlaidBerry raises some concerns about pessimism. People are too often negative when there's a lot to be positive about. I agree. As a Christian, I think there are plenty of things to be negative about simply because God evaluates those things negatively, but you can't use that to ignore the things God considers beautiful, valuable, and good. Certain hope is one of the key excellences the Christian is called to seek.

At the same time, I hesitate about some of what Chad says, particularly this: "My issue here is with those folks who offer plenty of critique and nothing by way of recommendation. Zero proactive effort is taken to remedy the problem (as they see it) and no ideas are offered as an alternate solution. Of course, countless examples of this scenario abound, whether it be at home, work, church, etc." I think this attitude ignores something very important about how God has constructed different people. What follows is a development of my comments on his post (I seem to be doing this a lot lately).

Different people have different strengths, including intellectual strengths. I see this in philosophy a lot. Some people are excellent at putting together a whole system of thought. I marvel at Aquinas, Leibniz, and David Lewis because I'm just not like that. I'm a detail person, and what I'm really good at involves basically two things. One is understanding other views and being able to order and organize them, putting them more succinctly, comparing them with each other, and presenting them in simpler terms to people not as familiar with the issues.

The other thing I'm really good at is finding flaws in people's arguments and objections to their views. I seem to have a lot more trouble constructing my own views to replace those with, but the kind of philosophical thinking that I'm very good at is still important and needs to be done. I find that with things that are less philosophical my strengths lie in similar paths, and my blog turns out to reflect that to some degree. Is it illegitimate for me to do the things God has gifted me to be so good at? I don't see why it would be.

I think the same thing happens with just plain ordinary tasks. If people are trying to plan an event, you need people who will come up with good ideas. I wouldn't be one of those people. You also need someone there who will be able to foresee problems that might come up. That's what I'm excellent at. Some people really hate this about me, but I'm good at filling an important task that most people just simply don't think about. Some personality types have a harder time welcoming this task, but that doesn't make it less valuable. It just means some people have a harder time recognizing that and will tend to take criticism more personality.

For the task of instructing someone in the scriptures, we need people good at exhortation. The best preaching involves good exhortation, i.e. rhetorical skill at moving people's hearts from one place to another, at helping people see the urgency of living in certain ways, etc. I'm not anywhere near as good at that as I am at simply going through a text and looking at what it says. For that reason, I'll be quick to notice when someone who is an incredibly gifted exhorter has just misunderstood the passage. In a Bible study setting, I have to hold my tongue so as not to criticize everything people are saying when they're making all sorts of illegitimate leaps in their exegesis (or lack thereof). At the same time, there's a place for correction when people drastically misunderstand things, and I have to work hard to figure out the balance between correcting people all the time and simply allowing the distortion of God's word to go on around me.

I say all this to defend being critical in some settings when there might not be a positive thing to be said in replacement of what's being pulled away from. I say all this while believing quite firmly that we need to be optimistic about what the Bible says our hope is in, while being realistic about the sad state of the fall and accurately stating how bad off things are without Christ. Christians often forget the message of hope in trying to be real, but realism involves both optimism and pessimism about things that God has a positive or negative attitude toward. I think there's a place for both.

As a matter of fact, I was one of the first in line to lament the negativity in Christian musicians' lyrics when the 90s made it uncool to be happy about anythin, at least if you wanted to seem artistic. The move from Petra and Michael W. Smith to Sixpence None the Richer was, to my mind, regrettable (lyrically speaking at the very least, though I would argue even musically in some ways). So none of what I've said is meant to disagree with Chad's point. I'm all there on what he's mostly trying to say (though I think he'd do well to recognize that someone can criticize a country one loves, as the prophets did over and over again in ancient Israel, and as Jesus himself did later on).

What I wanted to offer as a supplement to Chad's post is that sometimes one person may be particularly gifted just in the one and not the other, and I'd want to be careful about criticizing someone for being negative without putting it in its context. This is one thing that really bothers me about how people respond to things I say that they take as purely negative. There's a need for people to say that kind of thing, and the trick is in figuring out how to say it and when to say, not in simply never saying it unless you have something positive to replace it with. That's just not always going to happen given different people's different giftings.

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UPDATE: Jeremy Pierce offers some ancillary remarks on this post. It is well worth reading as a necessary dissection of my thoughts. He makes a good point in a comment below as well that some people are gifted with the ability to discern the need for c... Read More

First for your perusal is Baldilocks post on the Ashley Smith story. One reason I am so perturbed by the sound of baying after different sorts of "fundamental" Christians is the increasing censorship and suppression of details of anything positively... Read More

5 Comments

Thank you, Jeremy, and you've said it so wonderfully, as always. You seem to be reflecting I Corinthians 12.

Chad's post caused me to take a step back and consider myself as well. I tend to be "critical" by nature, though usually not in the way Chesterton describes. I am usually motivated to want to fix things in the same way I am motivated to help my children when they are hurt. But I'm also much better at seeing what's wrong than at determining a solution. I like solutions to be a group effort :-)

What I mainly see Chad doing, though, is confronting complainers, not critical analyzers per se.

I very much appreciate your abilities, Jeremy! Your posts really help put my brain in higher gear, and remind me to slow down and think things farther through. Thank you :-)

Jeremy, you offer some very insightful commentary as usual. There is a fine line here regarding what we might consider "pessimism" and I think it really depends on a person's primary motivation underlying their stated criticisms. Bonnie has stated it well that my post was more a critique of "complainers" than well-intentioned critics.

I wholeheartedly agree that people are skilled in different areas and there is absolutely a need for critical thinking and analysis - much like the type you provide.

The key is, I believe, that in providing criticism it is intended to bring about positive change. Some people are gifted with the ability to prescribe exactly what type of change that is and others are gifted with the ability to discern the need for change in the first place.

Now that I think about it, my last sentence there should probably read, "...further through." LOL :-)

The fact that you realize the difference gets you points in my book.

I don't know if I am learning to appreciate you more or you are getting better and better. Maybe it's both? This was such a good post that I am tempted to go hyperbole on you.

I've had an idea that some of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is easier for some (due to their personality and giftings) to exhibit than for others. As in, some people are more given to being gentle and others manifest joy better, etc. Although we are to grow all facets of the Spirit's fruit to the perfection of Christ in us, some are more of a challenge to produce.

You were speaking more of the appreciation of the use of different callings and the concept of iron sharpening iron, I realize. I do think God has planned that we should have need of one another and to operate in interdependence.

You have expressed things so well. You really didn't need this comment, but I guess I needed to write it.

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