June 30, 2010

Dealing with Criticism

I blogged about this topic once before, and even did some research on the subject. I don't remember what I determined, so apparently I need a refresher course in how to deal with criticism.

Criticism

n. 1. the act or an instance of making an unfavourable or severe judgment, comment, etc.

Criticism occurs when one person makes an unfavorable remark or comment about something, be it another person's appearance, attitude, or behavior. Typically, criticism involves judgement, and the person who is critical is the one who is judging the other person. Some criticism is warranted, and is called constructive criticism.

"Constructive criticism is a compassionate attitude towards the person qualified for criticism. Having higher experience, gifts, respect, knowledge in specific field and being able to verbally convince at the same time, this person is intending to uplift the other person materially, morally, emotionally or spiritually. For high probability in succeeding his compassionate criticism the critic has to be in some kind of healthy personal relationship with the other one, which is normally a parent to child, friend to friend, teacher to student, spouse to spouse or any kind of recognized authority in specific field. Hence the word constructive is used so that something is created or visible outcome generated rather than the opposite." (theFreeDictionary.com)

Conversely, destructive criticism is:

"Destructive criticism is intended to harm someone, derogate and destroy someone’s creation, prestige, reputation and self-esteem on whatever level it might be. This may be done intentionally or out of sheer ignorance and foolishness. Hence the word destructive is used. In practical life destructive criticism may be disguised as constructive to be more painful while harming. Valid examination of intention of critic is when asked to prove, to help or to be somewhat useful at all. Often destructive criticism comes from persons who are envious, cruel and those who judges in fields which are not their own."

I have been the recipient of both types of criticism, and truthfully, neither is a joy-ride. No one likes being criticized, even when it is offered with compassion. Though, I will admit that in most recent days (spanning my marital crisis), I have received numerous criticisms from people who actually were intent on helping me spiritually. In these instances, the criticism offered did have a valid point, and was used, upon reflection, to help me see certain things, to process new information, and in general, to overcome a particularly difficult event. In my case, constructive criticism did what it is designed to do: to uplift me physically, emotionally, materially, mentally and spiritually. It served as edification, which simply means to offer "improvement, instruction, or enlightenment, esp when morally or spiritually uplifting."

The Bible calls us to edify one another, to build each other up. In 1 Cor 14:12 we read, "So also you, since you are eager to have the function of spiritual gifts, seek to abound in spiritual gifts that edify the church." And again in 1 Cor 14:26, "When you assemble, let all things be done for edification." Clearly God has given us the ability to "edify" or to build up, lift up one another. We are to use our ability to criticise for His Glory and for the nurture and spiritual growth of other believers.

"Edification is the process of spiritual growth in a Christian who is living according to the plan of God and who is fulfilling the command to "grow in grace and in the knowledge" of Jesus Christ." (See website on this topic)

It is obvious that the Bible commands believers to lift up one another, to use our words (verbal support) to help other believers grow in the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our goal should be for their betterment, and not our own. Our purpose should be to help them attain a higher standard, to do whatever is pleasing the God, and not pleasing to themselves or us.

How then do we edify one another without falling into the trap of using our words to destroy? We need to take heed of what James tells us in chapter 3, verses 5-10:

"Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be."

I think we need to carefully consider how we use our words, first off. And then, secondly, we need to remember why we would choose to curse someone (to destroy them with our words). If we take a second look at the definition of destructive criticism we see the root cause of this type of behavior: "Often destructive criticism comes from persons who are envious, cruel and those who judges in fields which are not their own."

In short, people who engage in destructive criticism often do it out of envy and jealousy. They may feel inadequate and that they lack merit in some regard. They are reacting in a way that draws attention to themselves, in order to puff themselves up, to make themselves feel more valued or wanted or needed. People who feel neglected for some reason will often use their words to dissuade or discourage other people, especially if they feel that the other person is achieving or receiving some blessing or benefit that they desire or wish to have (envy). Also, they may use their words to dissuade a person from doing something that could potentially cause them to lose favor or a specific thing (such as a relationship).

In this case, often jealousy is the cause of the remark, and the person making the remark feels threatened and is trying to keep from losing something they feel they already possess. Sometimes envy and jealousy are confused as being the same thing, but really they are partners in crime, so to speak. Envy is the desire to have something you do not possess; whereas jealousy is the fear of losing something you already possess. Both are powerful emotions, and if left unchecked, can cause us to act out behaviors that are destructive not only to our relationship with God, but also to our relationship with others.

The Word tell us in Ephesians 4:29, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."

So there you have it, there is the answer to how to keep ourselves from saying things that clearly do not edify and build up the church of God. We are simply to say "No" to any feeling of envy or jealousy. We are to thank God for what we do have, and be thankful for what others have as well. In doing so, we will turn our words into a well-spring of blessing rather than cursing. Let us endeavor to use our words to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ, and not tear them down. If we have any issue at all regarding blessings (whether we are lacking them or desiring them), let us go to the Father of all Blessing and ask Him for His judgement on our life. You see, rather than being envious of what some other person has or is doing or is able to do, simply ask the Father whether or not He intends for you to do the same thing. If His answer is YES, then praise Him for His Goodness towards you. If His answer is NO, then simply accept it and acknowledge that God has something else in mind for you -- perhaps something that is a better fit for you, and something that will bring Him far greater glory.

I took some criticism the other day, and it stung me (as it always does). I then shared that with a friend (well, a relative), and then felt bad about doing that. I thought I was gossipping because the person I told is well-acquainted with the other person (the one doing the criticising). My heart's desire is to use my words for blessing and not cursing, so I was feeling a bit undone that I had shared these hurtful words. I thought I should have just let them go, not even considered them, but they pricked me, and I turned to someone who would sympathize with me. I asked the Lord, "did I sin in doing this?" His reply was, "No." Thankfully, He helped me understand something about how we use our words, and this post is a permanent reminder of the most common motive for destructive criticism: envy and jealousy.

"Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." ~Galatians 5:19-21

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