George Handley on Criticism, Compassion and Charity

As part of the “My Journey as a Scholar of Faith” series, College of Humanities associate dean George Handley presented a lecture entitled, “On Criticism, Compassion and Charity.” Handley discussed the ways in which criticism, compassion and charity forge relationships that lead to spiritual and intellectual progression.

IMG_6081PROVO, Utah (Nov. 11, 2015)—“There are as many ways of reaching Christ as there are people in this world,” said George Handley, associate dean of the College of Humanities.

At an Education in Zion lecture as part of the “My Journey as a Scholar of Faith” series, Handley suggested that the three crucial ingredients of criticism, compassion and charity must work together to create a quality intellectual and spiritual life. In defining these three principles, Handley discussed the ways each principle is also crucial to developing meaningful relationships.

Beginning with the concept of criticism, Handley explained, “Criticism is not the same thing as contention. Contention isn’t what happens when people disagree. It is what happens when they lose trust and respect for one another.” Criticism, on the other hand, helps to “protect ourselves from deception” and “strengthen our autonomy as agents.”

Handley continued that compassion is an important companion to criticism. Compassion, he said, leads to learning and change, helping individuals avoid overgeneralizations that might overlook the personal circumstances of another individual.

Lastly, Handley said that charity is “the means by which we learn to live with the tension between criticism and compassion,” adding that charity recognizes the gap between human thoughts and God’s thoughts.

“The humanities are a wonderful training ground for charity,” Handley said. “They teach us how to imagine communion. They are methods for experiencing reconciliation, for imagining beauty and meaning in the wake of chaos and suffering, and for connecting us to one another and to the cosmos.”

Highlighting the importance of relationships, Handley said it is through relationships that doubts are resolved, adding that criticism or disagreement does not deter faith or belief, but rather distrust in ourselves and others. To build these relationships, he said that it is important to listen to one another, to bear the burdens of the struggles of others.

Handley used the example of the recent policy change regarding same-sex couples in the LDS Church as an opportunity to hear all sides and to use charity towards all parties in order to come to a better understanding. This stretches us, but in his own experience, he said, such stretching helps us to “share something of the contradiction it was for Jesus to feel abandoned by His father and friends just at the moment when He fulfilled His father’s will and suffered everything for all of us.”

He added that because of Christ’s Atonement and charity toward each of us, no one’s feelings about the policy change are unknown to Him, and no one’s perspective is incapable of finding a basis in an important truth.

“If you feel tempted to leave, please reconsider,” Handley said. “We need you. We need to hear your pain. We need your questions. We need your gifts. We will all be better for working this through together.”

He continued, “As the humanities teach us, there is something fundamentally healing about listening compassionately to the stories of others. In this regard, the way that the Church makes us responsible and answerable to people different than we are is an opportunity to offer our charity widely.”

Handley said that it is ultimately God’s love that allows individuals to realize what is fundamentally good about the gospel, the Church and individual existence.

He concluded, “God’s pure love, his charity, can feel impersonal, since it is available to anyone. But that’s just it. It is universal, so it is yours for the taking and yours also for the giving, to assist others in their pursuit of deeper happiness in Christ, the Creator and the Redeemer.”

Sylvia Cutler (B.A. English/French ’17)

Sylvia covers the department of Comparative Arts & Letters for the College of Humanities. She is a junior pursuing a double major in English and French with a minor in women’s studies.