The topic of censoriousness is one of those subjects wherein a person can easily become hypercritical. When does pointing out character flaws cross the line from being critical to being censorious? This is a topic that requires plenty of “walking on eggshells”. In a society that appears to be addicted to censoriousness, criticism feels like a fool’s game.
Censorious is a nearly obsolete word despite the fact that censorious is highly descriptive of much of today’s society. My Webster’s Dictionary defines censorious as:
Addicted to censure and scolding; apt to blame or condemn; severe in making remarks on others, or on their writings or manners.”
When we take a step back to examine the events happening in our world these days, we notice many faults and mistakes that we can attribute to our leaders. When we attempt to objectively enumerate those failings, we risk slipping into the state of censoriousness. If one is mindful, we will be aware of when we cross the boundary between constructive criticism and fiery persecution. When one senses that line is near, the wise person takes a deep breath and backs off for awhile. A scolding demeanor helps nobody. Such behavior can turn people off.
Censoriousness is a contagious, insidious state of mind. In particular, I’ve observed it on social media. Not only are individuals critical of current trends, but categories of subgroups are formed that are hyper censorious. If you spend much time on Facebook, you understand my observation. I’ve learned to severely limit the amount of time I spend scrolling through my “newsfeed” on Facebook in order to prevent getting caught up in the highly critical mood of the platform. It’s very easy to get emotionally carried away in that mindset.
There is a peculiar gloominess that pertains to hypercritical individuals. Debbie Downer and Bummer Bob seem to regard everything faulty and deeply flawed. They aren’t this way because they are inherently evil, such behavior seems to simply be their nature. It is easier to abuse the reputation of others than to offer constructive criticism. Perhaps it would be helpful to Bummer Bob to undertake self-improvement. Here is where my boundary between censoriousness and constructive criticism lies. It would be very easy to slip into a lengthy tirade against Bummer Bob and Debbie Downer, but I won’t go there.
There is a certain subset of leaders who seem to delight in being censorious. They purposely manipulate the censorious nature of “the masses”. The manipulations are the means such leaders use to achieve ambitious ends. Pointing out such purposeful censoriousness is helpful, not harmful. Manipulative leaders know how to whip up a mob. The leader understands that a mob has intense, destructive power. It is unwise to ignore the intent of censorious leaders.
When we carefully listen to the words of a harsh social critic, we often discover clues to the social critic’s own flaws. Here is where a famous William Shakespeare quote is handy. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” We find the scenario present when prominent politicians and clergy harangue the LGBT community. Eventually, it is brought to light that the critics engage in the same behavior as LGBT folks. Such is the nature of hypocrisy.
The problem of censoriousness is common in reformers of all persuasions, so it is important to be on the lookout for it. In too many cases, people who make it their business to find and advertise faults, are ill-suited for the actual work of social reform. Their minds are obsessed with the dichotomy of good versus evil. The 18th century Irish statesman, Edmund Burke wrote, “…because their minds are not only unfurnished with patterns of fair and good, but by habit they come to take no delight in the contemplation of those things. By hating vices too much, they come to love men too little.”
I’m going to make today’s post short because the boundary between being critical and censorious is in view again.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the 18th century poet, philosopher, theologian and writer, Johann Kaspar Lavater. “Just as you are pleased at finding faults you are displeased at finding perfections.”