When I was young, my mother used to tell me not to always be fault finding. It was a habit that was difficult to break. It was always easier for me to see what was wrong, than what was right. There was always room for improvement. The trouble was, not only did I see the ways what others did needed correction, I also became a perfectionist, so that I was never satisfied with what I did either. The danger of being a perpetual faultfinder is that it leaves no room for appreciation. It is based on dissatisfaction.
My years at university encouraged the faultfinding. We learned to think critically, which meant that nothing could be accepted without first examining all of the assumptions why such a thing could be postulated. It would be heresy to accept something at face value. This is not in itself unwise. However, when it begins to permeate every area of life, one can become a chronic faultfinder.
What is the antidote? In exercises of critical thinking, it could be to make a sincere effort to find those things that are positive or with which we can agree before we begin to look for what must be changed or challenged in a theory or a position.
In relationships it is to find what is admirable and attractive about a person before pouncing on their weaknesses or failures.
The ability to take this positive approach seems much more difficult and unnatural to us than a negative, questioning or critical approach. We find that we have to train ourselves to think that way.
One of the useful methods of developing a more positive attitude occurred to me several years ago. I discovered that if, every morning, I sat down and filled one page of my journal with those things for which I could be grateful that day, the scales began to fall off my eyes, and I could see much that was good and positive in the world around me. I could be freed from the chains of fault finding.
That is not to say that I go around looking at the world through rose coloured glasses. I am aware that there is much that I could focus on that is far less than pleasing or of fine quality. There are experiences that can take us so far into the darkness, that the light at the end of the tunnel seems no larger than a pinprick. Such was the case when our son became a quadriplegic as a result of his car careening out of control on black ice.
As we rushed to his bedside in the Intensive Care Unit, although I threw my gratitude journal into the suitcase, I doubted that I would be able to fill it during the days after his accident. I wondered if I would ever feel gratitude again.
Yet miraculously, each morning as I arose and opened my journal, with a few minutes of reflection there came to mind subjects about which I could frame my gratitude. Sometimes it was individuals who were there for us. Their kind deeds served to encourage us to hang on. Sometimes it was unexpected signs that God was with us in these dark days, like running into the surgeon as I left the chapel, where I had been praying while he did the tracheotomy. His comment that he just completed the most perfect tracheotomy of his medical career, assured me that those prayers had been heard and answered.
Critical thinking has its place, within the framework of a life that is based on gratitude. All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above. In an imperfect world we can keep our equilibrium by trusting in One who surrounds us with reasons to give thanks.