The Internet truly is a wonderful thing. We are now connected with people from all over the world. I have learned so much from online acquaintances who live in places that I’ll never be able to see. The knowledge we gain from this technology is mind-boggling. Unfortunately, there is a trade-off. We have become a society entrenched in one-dimensional relationships, and often we don’t value those “friendships” enough to care much about whether or not we hurt people’s feelings.
Personally, I find that quite sad. I started to think about the difference between these flat, non-emotional online relationships and true face-to-face, old-fashioned friendships. I came up with a theory: critical thinking versus criticism.
When we have a friend who we see on a daily basis, we use critical thinking in that relationship. When our friend says something or does something that we don’t like or don’t understand, we objectively analyze why our friend said or did this. We take into consideration the person’s background and baggage. We sometimes let things slide because we have taken the time and energy to really get to know this friend—how she/he thinks and acts and why.
By contrast, as we interact with people online, if they say something that we don’t like, we can dispose of them with the click of a button. We don’t take time to figure them out or smooth things over because they aren’t real to us—just names with a picture (and sometimes it’s not even a picture of the person, but of a bird, tree, monkey, etc.). We criticize their actions and delete them from our lives.
The problem with this is that we have become so adept at criticism that it carries over into other areas of our lives. We criticize our spouses, children, coworkers, members of our ward (local congregation), leaders of government, police, historical figures, and church leaders (which expands to church policies). We no longer know how to be objective. We’ve lost our ability to use critical thinking. In the process, we have also lost our sense of humor.
There is rampant among us a spirit of criticism. Perhaps it is a part of the age in which we live. We are constantly exposed to the writings of newspaper columnists and the opinions of radio and television commentators. Their major objective, it seems to me, is to find fault. They are critical, sometimes viciously so. They are critical of political figures. They are critical of church leaders. None of us is perfect; all of us occasionally make mistakes.
There was only one perfect individual who ever walked the earth. Men and women who carry heavy responsibility do not need criticism, they need encouragement. One can disagree with policy without being disagreeable concerning the policymaker (President Gordon B. Hinckley (then counselor in the First Presidency), “Charity Never Faileth,” (Oct. 1981 General Conference).
A speaker in a recent Sacrament meeting reminded our congregation of the great hymn “Behold the Great Redeemer Die,” in which Eliza R. Snow wrote of the Savior, “Although in agony He hung, No murm’ring word escaped his tongue.” If we are all supposed to be emulating the Savior, we should remember that the Savior never complained or murmured—not even as he was dying on the cross. The Savior didn’t murmur, criticize, complain, or whine. Instead, He asked Heavenly Father to forgive those who tortured and killed Him. Criticism was not in His nature, nor should it be in ours.
We live in a world that feeds on comparisons, labeling, and criticism. Instead of seeing through the lens of social media, we need to look inward for the godly attributes to which we each lay claim. These godly qualities and longings cannot be posted on Pinterest or Instagram (Elder W. Craig Zwick, “Lord, Wilt Thou Cause That My Eyes May Be Opened” Oct. 2017 General Conference).
I laugh sometimes when I hear people talking about how we should not judge. Aside from the fact that’s not what the scriptures tell us, as we are told to judge righteously, the same people who hop on the “don’t judge” train are often the first in the cyber bully arena. (See Alma 41:14, Alma 50:39, D&C 11:12, Proverbs 31:9, Deuteronomy 1:16.) It is our duty to judge between right and wrong, good and evil. It is also our duty not to criticize or condemn others. We condemn the sin, not the sinner.
It also might be good for us to reconnect with our sense of humor. Laughter seems to be a thing of the past. We take ourselves and others all too seriously. While trying hard to be politically correct, we’ve lost a sense of perspective. We have such a need to be right all the time that we can’t view the humor when we are wrong. We can’t even admit that we might be wrong—not even to ourselves. We’ve trained ourselves to battle the internet bullies and put up a good fight, and it carries over into everyday life—even when the screen has gone dark (which isn’t often enough).
I’m hopeful for the future, however. I think man’s best quality is the ability to change. It’s never too late to change. Once we realize the mistakes we are making, we can get back on course and make our lives better. We can repent of our shortcomings, pick ourselves up by our bootstraps, and move on.
So here is what I propose: unplug long enough each day to observe the good in the world. Watch a sunrise or a sunset. Listen to the birds sing. Take note of flowers blooming. Watch a child play. Then take a few more minutes and say something nice to someone—and make it genuine.
Use objective, critical thinking to find the good qualities in someone, and express your gratitude for that goodness. Practice being kind. Check yourself when you begin to criticize something or someone. Smile often. Use your words for good. You will soon be using critical thinking instead of criticism on a daily basis.
Tudie Rose is a mother of four and grandmother of ten in Sacramento, California. You can find her on Twitter as @TudieRose. She blogs as Tudie Rose at http://potrackrose.wordpress.com. She has written articles for Familius. You will find a Tudie Rose essay in Lessons from My Parents, Michele Robbins, Familius 2013, at http://www.familius.com/lessons-from-my-parents#.UYPhA6K.