Monday, October 23, 2006

Constructive Criticism: Its Value

Montague Brown, Ph.D, a professor of philosophy at St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH for some twenty years, had this to say about criticism in his book entitled "The One-Minute Philosopher" (published by Sophia Institute Press - 2001):

"Criticism is the 'honest appraisal of the value of ideas or actions.' When thorough and fair, it addresses strengths and weaknesses. Pursued in the right spirit, it is a positive undertaking whose purpose is to gain an accurate understanding for the sake of growing in wisdom and virtue...

Although most of us do not like to be criticized (at least as to the shortcomings of our work), constructive criticism is helpful to us. It makes us aware of what is lacking in our work and thus allows us to improve. If I am never criticized, I may become 'self-satisfied' and not try to do better. Worse, I may grow comfortable with my faults. This is also bad for the community, for my uncorrected ideas and actions will likely harm others. Thus, criticism is a public service."

This is why Pope John Paul II said that "There is room for constructive criticism in the Church." Such criticism helps us to grow and become better persons. This fact is not appreciated by a parishioner of Ste. Marie's Parish in Manchester, who posted some anonymous comments at this Blog today. This parishioner was responding to a couple of previous posts I had written detailing how I was made to feel very unwelcome at Ste. Marie's and that I was prohibited from volunteering at the parish or participating in any way whatsoever. This individual wrote:

"Sounds like the rantings of a child having a temper tantrum. Anyone that has any knowledge of Rev. Montminy knows that he values every individual as created in the image and likeness of God. Your bad experience is no excuse for your poor behavior at this point..." This person then cited Mark 11:25, which reads "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

Lastly, this individual wrote, "You have mentioned your desire to become a priest, that you might have a vocation. I would assume with this kind of attitude, that will not happen."

Let's address these points one by one. First of all, constructive criticism is a public service, not "the rantings of a child having a temper tantrum." And my posts were constructive in both tone and tenor. At no time have I ever engaged in condemnation, which is defined as the devaluation of a person. Again, in the words of Montague Brown, "Condemnation goes beyond evaluation of an idea or action to a declaration of the worthlessness of a human being."

Therefore, while I have never engaged in condemnation of any person (and certainly not Rev. Montminy), this individual has devalued me as a person by ascribing childish motives to my person and suggesting that I am "having a temper tantrum."

Secondly, while I refuse to judge Rev. Montminy's interior dispositions, the comment that "Anyone that has any knowledge of Rev. Montminy knows that he values every individual as created in the image and likeness of God. Your bad experience is no excuse for your poor behavior at this point.." would appear to be inaccurate.

If it is true that Rev. Montminy "values every individual as created in the image and likeness of God," why wasn't I ever welcomed at the parish by either him or his staff? And why was it such a struggle just to register at the parish? And why is it that no one ever got back to me to follow up on my desire to volunteer, a desire which I expressed on the registration form? Why have others written comments at this Blog as well as emails indicating that they too were not made to feel welcome at Ste. Marie's?

And how do such questions and observations constitute "poor behavior" on my part?

Thirdly, I love the Scripture which reads: "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." (Mark 11;25). But this is a conditional statement. The word "if" is operative here. And I hold absolutely nothing against Rev. Montminy - or anyone else for that matter. Therefore, there is nothing to forgive.

Lastly, this charitable soul wrote, "You have mentioned your desire to become a priest, that you might have a vocation. I would assume with this kind of attitude, that will not happen." Again, constructive criticism does not indicate a "bad attitude" or negativity. Constructive criticism is aimed at building up rather than tearing down. But bearing this in mind, what shall we say of the criticism levelled against me by this anonymous (and that fact itself is very revealing) individual?

This anonymous person accuses me of engaging in the "rantings of a child having a temper tantrum," of falsely judging a Catholic priest (in reality I never judged his interior dispositions, only actions which I - and others - believe to be unwelcoming), of "poor behavior," of holding something against Rev. Montminy (again, I forgave him), and of having the "kind of attitude" which will prevent me from ever realizing my desire to become a religious.

Ironic is it not? Often, the very fault we accuse others of is the very fault which lies within. At any rate, if this sister in Christ is reading these words, I hold no animosity toward you whatsoever. Nor am I holding a grudge against Rev. Montminy or anyone else. But I reserve the right to engage in constructive criticism. Its purpose is the building up of community and of the common good.

Just as the priest offers me constructive criticism and advice before granting me absolution (and I welcome such advice/criticism because I am a sinner who needs to grow), so too I have a duty to offer constructive criticism to other members of the Mystical Body whenever I see actions or ideas which fail to hold up to the Lumen Christi.

As a member of the lay faithful, I already possess a vocation. And I will not deny my vocation to act as salt and light simply because someone is unable to look at a matter objectively and assumes a defensive posture.

The Scripture tells us that "People sharpen one another just as iron sharpens iron." Fraternal correction is not the sole domain of the clergy. Nor is constructive criticism. The sooner we all realize that fact, the better off we'll all be.

God love you,

Paul Anthony Melanson





2 comments:

Lisa said...

Outstanding Paul! What a charitable response to such hateful comments left here. I think I also know who this person is. Roger had emailed her in the past with your previous posts and she was very hateful and argumentative then too.

I think part of the problem here in Manchester and in other dioceses is that some clergy and religious are incapable of ever admitting when they have said or done something wrong.

Of course, these same clergy and religious will never hesitate to correct the laity or to assign the laity the blame whenever something goes wrong in the Church such as lack of vocations, lack of monies, etc.

Robert said...

If that person is indicative of parish life at St. Marie's, small wonder that they are not a welcoming parish. The post by anon was childish.

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