Opposition as Surprise

Most enjoy surprises--not the kind where you come home to discover that your basement is flooded or your car won't start--but the kind like birthday parties, gifts, or the visit of a long missed friend. There is a thrill in the sudden realization of a good thing, thrust upon you all at once without preparation or warning. It adds something more to the event than if it had been planned and foreknown. When we face opposition or criticism, depending on our disposition, more often than not we are prone to take it as a personal attack, intent on destruction. In academia, we revolt inside at the critic's 'lack of subtlety' or 'failure to see my point' and storm off in a dismissive huff before resigning ourselves to the revisions. After all, what did we expect when we sent the paper off for review? Christians do not seem to be any better positioned to cope with criticism and display a similar range of reactions. When frustrated, they can always retreat into their sectarian enclave for refreshment.

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Why not reframe criticism as surprise? Granted, there is negative criticism that is indeed hell bent on destroying you. Sometimes it may be warranted to assume that it is, but this should not be one's normal and natural response. There is nothing to justify it. Is there not something that we love in surprises to be found in scholarly criticism? What hampers us from seeing it immediately is that there is no obvious benefit, quite unlike the surprise party or surprise visit of the long missed friend. So, the challenge in reframing opposition as surprise is first being convinced of the benefit.

We may be content with ourselves just as we are. In many respects this is perfectly healthy. Yet there is an essential blessing of Christian sensibility that is discontent with the status quo. This too is healthy. Change is the only way forward and up. Criticism is the engine of that change, whether from yourself or others. And the most difficult things to change are the problems that one cannot see without the help of the critic. Criticism that finds the error that was formerly overlooked is the surprise gift. It provides the opportunity for reformation of the self.

This opportunity might mean more work, which you are loath to complete, but the surprise can also create a new invigoration as it provides a novel circumstance or challenge to complete. The best critics are those who really did give you a gift of their time and consideration. You may even find yourself falling in love with them. How's that for a surprise?

EthicsJason M. RampeltComment