Friday, October 15, 2010

When the critical spirit arises

"Today is like every other day.
We wake up empty and frightened.
Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading.

Take down the dulcimer.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways 
to kneel and kiss the ground."
  -- Rumi

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, one of my assignments this week was to create a video about group facilitation.  After completing that task, I spent most of yesterday observing meetings; another class assignment.  It was a good reminder -- if not all that pleasant a reminder -- that the world in which I spend my days and the world my school prefers to describe is not necessarily the real world.

The facilitator I created for my video was named Gladys, and near the close of the video, after listing her strengths and what she attempts to foster in a group meeting, I listed the things she doesn't like: hidden agendas, lack of transparency, domineering speakers, lying, and sabotage.  And -- you guessed it -- I got to see them all in action in those meetings yesterday.

So here's my dilemma -- the very thing I began wrestling with in the first place, when I made that first version of the video: What do I do with what I know?

What do ANY of us do when faced with the difficult observations that come before us?  What I didn't like in my first video, those shadows I described walking across my face, was how I looked when I criticized something.  So my solution was to remove all critical statements from the presentation.  I don't necessarily like my face that much better (I had a boss who used to call me "rubber face" and now I see why!).  But at least it doesn't have that sort of holier-than-thou look that seems to accompany criticism.

And I'm not saying the people who did these things -- the blustering, the lying and the sabotage -- are bad people.  I've done my best, over time, to seek the good in each of them, and to interact with that.  But any time someone insists loudly and repeatedly that they are right and someone else is wrong, I grow suspicious.  And once my suspicions are awakened, it doesn't take long to begin to find the discrepancies between claims and truth.

But again: what do I do with that?  Gladys the Facilitator's job is to create and hold a safe space for dialog.  But how do we do that within ourselves?  And what is our responsibility to the truth?  Thinking about this, I remembered another post, a year and a half ago,  when I was wrestling with this same issue.  So I went back and looked it over, and found this wonderful quotation from Joan Chittister's book, The Cry of the Prophet.

"There is a major difference between a critic and a prophet. Critics stand outside a system and mock it. Prophets remain clear-eyed and conscientious inside a sinful system and love it anyway. It is easy to condemn the country, for instance. It is possible to criticize the church. But it is prophetic to love both church and country enough to want them to be everything they claim to be -- just, honest, free, equal -- and then to stay with them in their faltering attempts to do so even if it is you yourself against whom both church and state turn in their attempts to evade the prophetic truth of the time...

Criticize we must, but we cannot criticize what we do not love... The function of the prophet is not to destroy. The function of the prophet is to expose whatever cancers fester beneath the surface so what is loved can be saved while there is yet time...The horrible truth is that prophecy is not a harsh and heartless thing at all. Prophecy is unrequited love gone mad with hope."

Perhaps those shadows I saw walking across my face -- the ones that echo the shadows on my own mother's face when she was angry -- were not the harsh and heartless beasts they seemed.  Perhaps what made them difficult to watch was simply that exhausting tension -- of unrequited love gone mad with hope.

Which seems to me, as I look back over yesterday's people, to be the aching heart of compassion.

I still don't know what to do with what I know.  Perhaps I don't have to do anything: perhaps it's just my job to hold it all in hope and love while staying still engaged.  It would, quite frankly, be a lot easier to step outside the system to criticize and mock.  But I'll do my best to resist that impulse.

No one ever said it would be easy.  Which may be why this poem calls to me today.  I think, after all that venom, I prefer today to take refuge in beauty.  Perhaps I'll go outside -- and kneel, and kiss the ground.

1 comment:

Maureen said...

What you describe reminds me of what it is like to go through couples counseling, when the person you love seems to come out of nowhere with something you've never imagined. The only way to get through that experience is to remove "I" and listen closely enough to be able to hear what's being said, and then tell the person what you heard. It's difficult. What some of us don't realize is that what we think we've heard is not always what's been said. It takes a skilled and objective facilitator to guide the exchange and enable the two people to walk out the door together.

I think it is the case that the only antidote is beauty and love, which still are abundant in our world when we know where to seek them out.