One of the most notable aspects of life is that some of our most revealing efforts are critical ones. When we critique something, we are revealing something about ourselves, and we may not always want to reveal these things about ourselves. It may be helpful to know, though, that this is by no means merely a contemporary problem but it has been a problem for a long time. Even when we look at the book of Revelation, for example, it often escapes us that the genre of apocalyptic is not merely a genre that deals with visions of the future, but also critiques of the present. It is what is objectionable about the present that fires our longing for a better future. If everything was good as it was, then there would be no need for us to look for another world to be a part of. If we are to be content with what we have, complacency is the enemy of moral perfection, as to be self-satisfied with who we are prevents us from recognizing the sorts of immense change are necessary to turn this present evil world into the glorious new heavens and new earth we long to be a part of.
There are many ways that we reveal ourselves in the course of our writings, often unintentionally. That which we find most abhorrent in others is that which we struggle with most deeply, and perhaps even most unsuccessfully, within ourselves. This often reveals itself in strange ways. Those who are most intensely self-regulated are the least tolerant of external coercion, because they practice coercion against themselves so ruthlessly, and so they cannot bear to have others usurp their own privilege to rule themselves. Similarly, those who are out of control when it comes to refusing to regulate themselves seek the most control over others, as if by compensation.
When we review and critique someone, we reveal simultaneously the ground on which we stand that provides the grounds for the critique that we make. That this is not always understood is demonstrated by the popularity of various forms of criticism which try to masquerade as revealing insights about what it is that is critiqued, when in reality we learn virtually nothing about what is critiqued and a great deal about who is doing the critiquing and often why they are so woefully unequipped to deal seriously with religion, great literature, culture, justice, or any other subject. If it were more commonly realized that the critic is speaking about what is inside their own head when they look at something else, we would have a lot less critical literature in the world, and I think most of us can agree that is a good thing.
Nevertheless, to the extent that we realize that our critiques tell on ourselves, and to the extent that we care enough about what is wrong in the world that we are willing to reveal ourselves in the process of speaking out against the evils that are all around us, we can still criticize profitably. Doing so requires having insight into the reasons why we are so bothered by certain things and not so much by others, by what we hold to be priorities, and how we deal with how we understand and interpret the world, and what our fundamental and bedrock assumptions and premises are. Such ground is often unexamined, but those who are astute will be able to figure it out not least by reasoning backwards from the conclusions that we draw about what is around us. To respond to what is around us is to reveal the contours of our own selves.