Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Connecting with Critics

My last two posts have painted critics in a very unfavorable light, yet as a leader, I believe one must strive to stay connected to one's critics.  That may sound strange given what I have said, but let me try to explain.

One of the first reasons I say such a thing is due to my study of a philosophy called Bowen Family Systems Theory.  Without going too deeply into the philosopical and psychological jargon, BFST basically states that a person must be willing to take a stand and then expect criticism.  Expect someone to disagree with you.  Expect someone to react to what you have done.  When leaders work for change, it upsets the "homeostasis" of a group.  A system will naturally try to head back to where it is comfortable, and critics are generally those who try to push a system back to homeostasis.  As such, when critics begin speaking, it means that you are doing something right.  There is no need to fight back against what they say.  Neither is there a need to run from them.  Simply standing on principle and taking their shots with as little reactivity as possible is a good thing.

I am reminded of the final showdown in the Harry Potter books when Harry willingly faces off with Lord Voldemort.  He doesn't attack.  He doesn't run.  He allows Voldemort to zap him with the "Avayda Kadarva" curse.  Harry is "killed", but through his stand, he defeats Voldemort.

Such critics also help a leader see his or her blind spot.  Oftentimes, critics see things that we cannot, and sometimes they do raise valid issues.  A leader willingly takes the criticism--but not personally--so that he or she can make sure all facets of an issue are addressed.  One simply cannot completely ignore them.

The second reason for listening to critics is a theologically based one.  In 1 Corinthians chapter 12, St. Paul compares the church to a body:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.

In a very real way, St. Paul says that even critics are part of the body of Christ.  At times, I might think that critics are...well, can I be a little colorful here?...***holes.  (Bet you didn't think pastors had such thoughts, huh?)  However, one of the things that was pointed out to me once regarding critics is: if you think a body can live without an ***hole, try living without yours.

You can't.  Critics are a necessary part of life, as are leaders.  Should they be given too much sway?  Not necessarily, but they are valuable in their assessment and good to keep around.  After all, they are children of God too.

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