The Nuances of Honesty: Criticism and Cynicism

cy“Criticism- doubt informed by curiosity and a deep knowledge of a discipline related to your work…

Cynicism- doubt resulting from ignorance and antiquated ways.” (1)

You were wrong

Recently, I had a difficult conversation with a friend about a misunderstanding. At the end of the conversation, he casually mentioned something along the lines of, “Wow, I had initially come to this meeting thinking that you were completely wrong, but now I see that I was also in the wrong too.” Well, that just burst my bubble and made me want to rehash the whole misunderstanding again (because it obviously was not resolved.) Yet, I held my tongue. Actually, I had been dreading the whole confrontation because when he had called me earlier about the issue, I knew from the way he phrased his words that he was sure I was wrong. He didn’t want to talk; he wanted to point out all the ways that he was right and I was wrong.

Criticism versus Cynicism 

I will admit he was right to a certain extent. (It was basically just a big misunderstanding of two decisions that I had made. He thought they were mistakes because he didn’t know the whole story.) But what ticked me off is that he wanted to meet to solely show my error. He had come with a pre-conceived agenda/idea. (Basically, I had been weighed on the scale and had been found wanting.) That, however, is not how criticism works; that’s how cynicism works. Cynicism is when one reacts out of “ignorance and old ways.” A cynic enters the conversation with a pre conceived presuppositions. Actually there are a lot of overlaps between a critique and a cynic. They may say the same things and highlight the same issues, but a cynic, to me, is anyone who already has his mind made up. He has his judgement before facing the jury. A cynic to me is one who already knows the verdict without interacting with the evidence. Cynicism is everywhere and pride/superiority is at its root.

Thankfully, after a lot of talking and a third person moderating, my friend (at the beginning) finally saw that what he had perceived as being rude and inconsiderate on my part were actually legitimate decisions I had made because he did not know the full story. He came as a cynic but left as a critic.

Cynicism versus Authenticity

In an article by Relevant entitled, Faith and the New Golden Age of Late Night TV (2) the author mentions the revolution in late night TV. He talks about the demise of Jon Stewart, Letterman, Leno and Conan. When talking about Stewart he said,

“After more than a decade on the air, he’d become a jaded insider… who often made his audience less hopeful and more angry. There were times in his final months where he no longer seemed like the funny kid at the back of the class keeping the teachers on their toes; he was now the one with a front row seat to a broken system that he realized he couldn’t fix. He seemed defeated.”

Cynicism is different from criticism and inquisitiveness. Do not misunderstand. I am not endorsing spinelessness/silence when you are prompted to speak. Neither am I saying that those who post on ubfriends are cynics.

I am writing this to point out the subtle distinction between  cynicism and criticism. My argument is against the kind of thinking that says, “I am right and everyone else is wrong.” How many times have you entered a conversation with the idea that your conversant is completely wrong and dumb? I know I have done that many times and I have been (un)pleasantly surprised. I also have been in many conversations where I was on the receiving end of a cynic. I have had to deal with those who instead of hearing my story or listening to me came to simply castigate. Instead of seeking authenticity, HOTness as Dr. Ben loves to say, cynics seek to judge/condemn. One type of criticism comes from love, while the other from a place of superiority. (Btw, it’s very obvious when one of the two thinks they are better than the other.)

A Cynic Surprised

There are two sides of this cynical coin. The relevant article finishes with this quote,

“Christianity with an edge has a price. On one end of the spectrum are leaders, thinkers and bloggers who are so concerned about preserving their own cultural values that they encourage boycotts, cultivate outrage and make Christianity into a hostile cultural force. On the other end are leaders, thinkers and bloggers who have become so fed up with influential Christian institutions, they’ve become cynical, jaded and outraged—albeit for different reasons.”

I write this not to point out that anyone is a cynic. I write this because I personally recently discovered the difference between cynicism and criticism. I want to be honest, open and transparent. I want to be authentic. I don’t want to sweep dirt under the carpet (that’s been done for the last few decades and look at the fruit it has reaped…) And yet, I also don’t want to be judgmental or condemning. I don’t want to jump to conclusions about anyone whether they are in UBF or not, whether they’re Christian or not, whether they’re heterosexual or not, Pentecostal or not, etc.

Furthermore, after writing my last article They want Christians, not Christ (3) I was pleasantly surprised. When I went back to class my Christian classmates were not as judgmental as I thought they would be, but they were intentional about being authentic. As Joe said in a comment on here, authentic community is possible, but it takes intentionality (I think he also said time and commitment.) I have a feeling that God put me in the school where I study surrounded by Christians, so that I would learn to love the Church again. It’s a hard lesson, but may I seek authenticity and not cynicism.

 

 

16 comments

  1. Thanks MJ for the post. Without a doubt, it is too easy to be a cynic, to be cynical, jaded and sarcastic, perhaps like Jon Stewart after decades (16 years) of attempting to be critical for the good but then seeing no change or results for the better.

    In my opinion, the worst of UBF says, “UBFriends is an instrument of the devil. All those who left UBF and are criticizing UBF on UBFriends are unthankful, ungrateful, bitter, Satan, not preaching the gospel, etc.”

    Perhaps, the worst of UBFriends might say, “UBF has no hope to ever change, because they continue to insist on UBF being right even after 50 years of countless people leaving and castigating the same authoritarian abuses again and again.”

    Can both sides be gentler, kinder and tone down the rhetoric, both publicly and especially privately?

    • I’m wondering who says this, Ben? “UBF has no hope to ever change.”

      If that is what people hear from me, then we have a misunderstanding. I’ve never believed that and I have rarely ever said that or wrote that. Every single action I’ve taken, including my resignation, has been because I believe there IS hope to change.

      Can UBF keep UBFism and still change? Now to that I say a hearty no way. But the organization can surely get better.

      Change involves stopping things that are bad and harmful. UBFism is to be rejected if there is to be any actual change. Is that possible? Yes, I have always believed that is possible, and Westloop is the best example.

      Does that mean I will ever form a relationship with ubf people? No, there is no requirement for that to happen.

      What is more, my new book is entirely about change. It is about ending the denial and regaining a healthy identity.

    • Hi Brian, I wasn’t saying that you or anyone else in particular says or thinks this. But as an agent provocateur I overstate my rhetoric in order to emphasize my point. The discord and disconnect between UBF and UBFriends is at this juncture rather wide and seemingly not able to be bridged. Even if both sides do not say the things I state, that may be what both sides think and feel subjectively about the other side.

    • Joe Schafer

      “The discord and disconnect between UBF and UBFriends is at this juncture rather wide and seemingly not able to be bridged. – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/08/29/the-nuances-of-honesty-criticism-and-cynicism/#comment-19160

      Ben, I’m not sure what you mean. There are lots of UBF members around the world who pay attention to this website. There are probably more UBF members than nonmembers who read UBFriends. The vast majority do not participate in the online discussions. Perhaps they disagree with some of the views expressed here. (So do I.) But they profit from this website, because they keep coming back. Our readership has been growing, not shrinking. Here they get information that they cannot find anywhere else.

      And yes, there are many UBF leaders who never read anything on this website. There is a gap that cannot be bridged. But be honest. Do these people have non superficial relationships — the kind where they can discuss tough issues about faith and ministry — with ANYONE outside of UBF? As far as I can tell, they do not. (Some of them are involved in KIMNET, which appears to be nothing but as a bunch of old Korean men heaping praise and honor and awards on one another. No one in KIMNET would ever ask them tough questions or challenge them on anything.) On the rare occasions where UBF leaders attend nonUBF functions, they huddle together and don’t network at all, because they believe they don’t have anything to learn. They are glad to gather endorsements from outsiders, but they don’t want any real help or advice from anyone outside of their tiny tribe.

      So when you say that there is an unbridgeable gap between UBFriends and UBF, I see that as a red herring. The unbridgeable gap is between those hardcore UBF leaders and everyone else in the entire world, except for their tiny circle of subordinates who will humor them and bow down to them until the day they die.

    • Very good point, Joe, which I didn’t realize. I guess it’s because I hardly ever hear from the reading/non-commenting ubf people, while the denouncement I hear about UBFriends are primarily from the “hard-core” people and their loyalists, both of whom hardly ever, if ever, read UBFriends.

  2. Thanks for another thought-provoking article, MJ. I find this article filled with tension, so not sure how to respond.

    I’m trying to understand what you are saying here. You mention many constructs: honesty, criticism, cynicism, doubt, judgmentalism, arrogance, and authenticy. You mention your encounter with a person intent on correcting you with their pre-conceived ideas. And then also you mention the retirement of Late Night TV show hosts in the US. Two times you point out that you are not calling anyone cynical. That’s a lot to take in. I can’t process all that right now, as I have so many reactions to every topic you present.

    The main thing I am trying to understand here is your definitions you quote from the referenced blog article. Are you saying that both criticism and cynicism is defined by doubt?

    This doesn’t quite make sense to me. Cynicism is defined as “a faultfinding captious critic; especially: one who believes that human conduct is motivated wholly by self-interest”. In cartoon characters, we are talking about Garfield and Squidward, two eternal cynics. How does doubt come into play?

    I find it helpful when talking about these things to go beyond the dichotomy. If I understand what you are trying to say here, it would seem the idealist says the glass is half full, the critic says the glass is half empty and the cynic says the glass has beer in it.

    So while I’m confused by all the topics presented here, I find it very helpful to recall George Carlin’s quote: “Behind every cynic is a disappointed idealist.” This is very relevant to the ubf context. So in spite of you saying you are not calling anyone a cynic, I volunteer my cynic card. I am indeed cynical. It is rather obvious that many former members have a touch (or more than a touch) of cynicism. That’s not bad necessarily, it just is the effect of having believed so strongly in the idealism called UBFism.

    So yes, we are cynical at times here. That is an honest assessment. As with almost every human trait, being cynical is not bad. It can be a breathe of fresh air. Being eternally cynical to the point you become jaded, that could be judged as unhealthy. Sometimes we are critical, sometimes cynical, sometimes angry, sometimes sad, sometimes happy– we are all a complicated mess of emotions.

    • Thanks for your feedback. I would say criticism is motivated by doubt and cynicism is motivated by “antiquated ways.” What I was trying to communicate with my first anecdote is an example of cynicism, where I was already judged before I had even said anything. This stems from a superiority complex and makes discussion impossible. According to my definitions, criticism is healthy and cynicism is not, but as you aptly noted cynicism happens. And its an honest expression of truth. Let express what they need to express. This article is just my 2 cents.

  3. Ben, as one of those involved with UBF who is reading but (for the most part) not commenting, I can affirm that this website has been very helpful for me. I’d like to join the dialogue more often in the future. However, I do fear that part of what you were getting at is true.

    While there are readers of this site involved with UBF, if they are anything like me they are reading individually but without the intent to engage their own UBF communities about these discussions. I would even venture to assume that most of the readers–myself included–are at a stage where they would prefer to keep quiet or leave the ministry rather than to bring up these matters and risk backlash.

    Indeed, the site reaches many people but I’m afraid that the overall effect may be that the content does not actually impact UBF chapters. Effectively, there is a gap between UBFriends and UBF itself, and that gap is perpetuated by the inability, self-rooted or systemic, to open up real meaningful dialogue in the community. I know from the visitor maps that several other people in my area visit this site regularly, but yet there is no discussion where I am.

    The topic of opening dialogue and approaching local directors and community members about these issues is one on which I want to write an article, unless someone else beats me to it. It is an important matter.

    • Hi again Hertoa. I think you are correct. ubfriends does not have any way to impact ubf directly. I will say though that ubf members have reported to me that ubf directors have met and discussed “what to do about ubfriends”. Other chapter leaders have pressured one of our former admins to shut down this website (they refused :). So there is some impact.

      But you and Ben are correct: there is a wide gap between people like me and the Korean ubfers. I say thank God for that. I never want to be around such arrogant, deceptive, manipulative people ever again. I want them out of my life for the rest of my life. I don’t want to associate with people who know about sexual abuse and don’t report it and instead promote the abuser. I don’t want to be around people who have no pain of conscience about violating laws and intruding into people’s lives and spiritually abusing them with spiritual order.

    • Charles Wilson
      Charles Wilson

      Hi Hertoa, I became a reader and then a commenter on this site while still in UBF. At the time I had no intention of leaving UBF when I started reading and commenting here. UBF pushed me to that, not ubfriends. The conversations I wanted and needed to have were not being welcomed in the chapter I was in. But I found them here and was very glad to join in. I did try to bring them into the chapter, but the more I did so the more I was pushed out and told to be just be quiet and fall in line (aka, just trust in God to work in our leaders), until I felt that I had no other choice, in good conscience, but to leave. I had been a leader in the chapter, a regular Sunday messenger, and various other forward facing positions that I could not just let things go as they were. I am very glad for ubfriends.org and the openness of dialogue, sincerity, humility, and love I found here.

    • @Hertoa, please write an article about the “topic of opening dialogue and approaching local directors and community members about these issues.” It’d be very interesting.

      When I first started commenting on ubfriends my ex-chapter director found out and ridiculed me for it. It was ironic because he read my comment, but he didn’t “read” it. He didn’t take it at face value; he just laughed at it. Anyways, it’s vital to discuss difficult topics. Sometimes Christians have questions/doubts about the status quo, but they are not allowed to voice them, for fear of being deemed a heretic. But I think doubts can be healthy. I believe that God gave us a mind to use it.

    • forestsfailyou
      forestsfailyou

      I disagree that UBFriends does not effect UBF. It effects UBF members, and those members effect their chapters. It may not seem this way, but the ideas and topics presented here have the power to change people’s perceptions and ideas, and these ideas many times offer alternatives to the UBF ideology that are at best not presented (ie grace) and at worst abhorred (challenging broken paradigms like titles and marriage by faith)

      For example, in my chapter the use of the term “fishing” has vanished. It has been replaced with “outreach”. The term “sheep” has went away mostly (its still used in messages and such). The title “shepherd” has went away as well. On top of that missionaries take English classes to learn English better and they refrain for insisting on speaking Korean only when I am around. Although I have been deemed rebellious and therefore have nothing of use to say (in many missionaries minds), I find that certain people see the very problems I see and they are more respected than me. With the right amount of finesse they can make the changes I no longer can.

    • Joe Schafer

      “With the right amount of finesse they can make the changes I no longer can. – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/08/29/the-nuances-of-honesty-criticism-and-cynicism/#comment-19224

      Forests, that makes me very sad.

      UBF leaders can make all the changes that they want. They can implement everything that you have suggested. But if they refuse to listen to you (and only take the advice when they hear it from their precious missionary coworkers or their oh-so-precious children) then nothing has been gained.

      In the end, God is not going to judge UBF’s leaders on the correctness of their procedures. He is going to judge them on how they treated the people in their midst.

      This has never been about policy. It has always been about people.

    • Joe Schafer

      “When I first started commenting on ubfriends my ex-chapter director found out and ridiculed me for it. It was ironic because he read my comment, but he didn’t “read” it. He didn’t take it at face value; he just laughed at it. – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/08/29/the-nuances-of-honesty-criticism-and-cynicism/#comment-19231

      MJ, that also makes me very sad.

      This chapter director is held up as an exemplary leader, someone who loves people oh so much because he sacrifices oh so much and works oh so hard to serve people and teach the Bible and prepare Sunday messages blah blah blah.

      But when someone voices an opinion that makes him uncomfortable, he cannot bear to listen, and just closes his ears and laughs it off.

      No doubt, he expects everyone to listen attentively to him when he delivers 40 minute Sunday messages and gives the announcements, even when its uncomfortable. But he cannot do the same in return.

      The primal act of love is not teaching the Bible. The primal act of love is listening. Even (especially) when it hurts.

      When people leave UBF saying “there is no love here,” this is what they mean. They may have been served a lot, on the missionaries’ terms, but they have never actually been heard. That is not love.

  4. Great pic, btw. Mr. grumpy cat is my spirit animal;)

  5. From the recent comments by Hertoa, Charles, Forests, MJ and Joe, it reminded me of what I’ve said often to a few leaders: “A problem with UBF is not that we cannot solve the problems; the problem is that we cannot address them” (unless you’re an older senior leader or the leader’s children).