‘No offence, but… If I could give you some constructive criticism… Um. You know, just as a friend…’
Is it just me or do you hear that and get all un-Jesus-like on the inside? Does your pride become suddenly un-swallowable?
I got some constructive criticism after a talk I did recently. For some reason, I never expect criticism, nasty or constructive (and sometimes they’re the same thing). Not because I think that no one could possibly disagree with something I say or write, but because I hate dishing out criticism to others – I find it awkward and confrontational – and I tend to assume that everyone feels like me. Stupid, hey. Because if you write or you talk in any kind of public domain, it’s like tattooing Feel Free To Lash Me on your forehead. If you share ideas and experiences with other people, you have to be brave and vulnerable. And sometimes, I think, folks mistake that for arrogance, which provokes criticism.
I like to write and I like to talk, which is dangerous. Because if people think you’re an idiot, why open your mouth and remove all doubt? But I think writing and talking might be part of what God wants me to do during my time on this pale blue dot (always mindful, of course, that there are nearly seven billion other people on the pale blue dot, and he doesn’t need me, or any of them). But if I’m going to carry on writing and talking, I’d better learn to take criticism on the inside, like a grownup, so that it actually helps me grow.
So, to come up with a bit of a taking-criticism process, I’ve considered the advice of a king, the philosophy of a poet and the characters of two prophets.
Do it like Solomon
In the moment, remember that ‘a gentle answer deflects anger’ (Proverbs 15:1). Deep breath. Smile. Thank you very much for your input I really appreciate it. Smile. Calm retreat. Deep breath.
Do it like Wordsworth
Wordsworth said that poetry was the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion recollected in tranquillity. So, he’d go walking and then, ‘Oh wow! Look at all those daffodils! I’m feeling so emotional right now!’ He would go home, calm down, and write about it over a quiet cup of tea.
So go home, calm down, and recollect the emotion in tranquillity. Pray. Evaluate the origins of the criticism. Do the soul search (i.e. Gosh. Maybe that’s a valid point. Yip. I do pretty much suck at that.)
Do it like Jeremiah
Go to your toughest critic. What does God say about you? He said to Jeremiah,
‘I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations… Don’t say, “I’m too young,” for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you.’ (Jeremiah 1:5-8)
Do it like Isaiah
No matter how hard peoples’ hearts were, no matter how few people listened, Isaiah kept talking, because God said so. He went back. He worked harder.
Sometimes people are just mean. Sometimes they really love you and want to help. Either way, criticism can be such a gift. It’s up to you, I guess.
Let my words be few
Shimmering only with your
Glory in the world