Mental gymnastics can be a useful skill.
Being able to approach questions from different perspectives and tease them out in unique ways can make you a deeper, more thoughtful person.
But cerebral dexterity can also make you impervious to reality or reflection.
I’m interested in the mindset required for somebody to boldly claim criticism as endorsement (politicians, we get to you later).
Appearing on SKY for his first TV interview since being sacked, Folau was asked how he has been able to “endure” what’s been thrown at him?
“It states in the Bible, as a Christian, and following after God’s word, that you will encounter [a backlash],” he told Alan Jones.
“So it’s kept my strong.”
After consulting some Christian friends, my best guess is Folau is referencing these Bible verses:
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:10
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
2 Timothy 3:12
The Folau interpretation seems to be that the more people object to your views the more correct you are. (Jones didn’t ask if the public outrage had prompted any self-reflection from Folau.)
Some have described Folau as ‘playing the victim’ but I’m not convinced. Playing suggests a level of awareness or strategy.
I think Folau truly believes what he’s espousing and his search for Biblical guidance to comprehend and process the criticism appears genuine.
But, regardless, Folau has let his faith act as an inhibitor to self-reflection. He hasn’t been able to look at himself with the same critical eye he’s turns on others.
I’m no Christian scholar, a failed alter boy at best, but is there not an obvious link between introspection and that much-hyped Christly virtue of humility?
2 Corinthians 13:5 even tells us “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”
Embracing Folau’s broad intellectual shield, you become one of those fictional monsters that only gets bigger and stronger the more people attack you.
It’s the ultimate get-out-of-jail card. Pass go, do not accept any criticism.
You simply excuse yourself from the rigours and responsibility or self-reflection.
What a super philosophy!
The parallels with Donald Trump are obvious and boring. Trump draws strength from the outrage of progressives, but yawn.
A more mundane expression of this super philosophy is made by our local political class, and it’s just as worthy of analysis.
Here’s a scenario: Politician A unveils a new policy. Two sections of the community—who normally disagree on everything and maybe even despise each other—both criticise the policy.
“See,” proudly declares Politician A. “We’ve got the balance right.”
Just as Folau is no more correct because of the criticism he receives, a politician is no more correct because diverse stakeholder groups are all critical.
The notion that every possible avenue of concern exists on a neat and linear spectrum is wrong.
What if the politicians’ stakeholder groups both think the proposed program is poorly structured? What if they both think governance arrangements are deficient? Or what if they simply oppose the program for wildly different reasons?
Seeing how specific groups react to policy changes can be instructive. But there’s no mythical sweet spot between the denunciation of stakeholders.
Broad public condemnation—for a policy proposal as for an Instagram post—doesn’t magically mean you’re right.
Maybe your policy is just average.
Maybe your views are plain hurtful.
Maybe you’re simply wrong.
Surely we can all do better?