My mother worked at a miserable job for ten years. She described her boss as an arrogant, unhappy man as she was subject to humiliation and horrific verbal abuse, expected to operate then-new computers with absolutely no training, often suppressed her physical needs for breaks and lunches, and received meager wages with few benefits. She remained in a job she abhorred because of her reliance on the income for our family but deep down, a belief took root that she could neither do better nor deserved better.
We all have critics in our lives. Some critics are helpful. Some are harmful. Sometimes they are a parent, sibling, spouse or significant other. Or they could be a friend, co-worker, your in-law, or a boss. Oftentimes it is your own self. Depending on the nature of the relationship and the dynamics, the criticism can range from mildly irritating to devastating, but my prayer is that with wisdom, even if we cannot rightly end those damaging ties, we can learn how to dismiss and even disarm this critic that knowingly or unknowingly is doing such harm.
When facing our biggest critic, there are 3 things I believe we must consider:
- Consider the SOURCE. Jesus taught the people to be on guard against false prophets by looking at their fruit- a good tree bears good fruit, a bad tree bears bad fruit. These were the wolves in sheep’s clothing and he warned against trusting them. With your critic, what kind of fruit do they bear? Are they known for their integrity and grace when dealing with others or are they known for being harsh, unfair, or impossible to please? If you see evidence (fruit) of healthy relationships, business practices, or general kindness towards their fellow man, then their criticism might be of benefit to you, even if it stings a little at first. However, if their life is filled with evidence to the contrary, it is entirely possible that their criticism is not even about you at all, but that you happen to be stuck under their tree and may unfortunately be hit with some rotten fruit. Another aspect to consider with the source of criticism is their perspective and background. My 97-year-old grandmother grew up in an era where women’s roles and contributions to the family were different than today. Her experiences living through the Great Depression, WWII, and the rest of the twentieth century afford her attitudes and viewpoints that are very different than mine. Not always better, but different. Assessing the source of disparaging remarks and respecting another’s unique experiences helps us to disarm the critic that may intentionally or unintentionally do us great harm.
- Consider their MOTIVE. Why might this person be so critical of you? Is it out of genuine care and concern or does it possibly make them look or feel better to be so critical? Are they exercising a form of control through their criticism? Is this a deflection of their own insecurities? Are there any other motivations that could fuel the criticism whether it benefits you or themselves? Proverbs 20:5 states, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” This verse implies that it is not always evident why people do the things they do or say the things they say, but a person with understanding can draw this out through observation, consideration, and possibly conversation. Once we understand their motives, we can readily accept the criticism that is intended for our good, and dismiss the criticism that is intended for harm.
- Consider the TRUTH. Is what they are saying in fact, truthful, or contain elements of truth to it? In the story of Job, he spent a great deal of time listening to his friends’ assumptions about why he had lost everything and had been so afflicted. He told them in Job 12:11, “Does not the ear test words as the tongue tastes food?” He was listening to their words, testing whether there was any truth to them and he found them lacking– so he rejected their assessments. He refused to believe the lie.
We too, should not believe everything we hear, but rather taste it, test it for the truth. If there is truth in the criticism, it is wise to consider that truth and act accordingly. If it does not represent truth, it is imperative to reject it, otherwise we buy into the lie and find ourselves imprisoned in an unhealthy job, relationship, or mindset. Lies put us in bondage, but truth sets us free.
In dealing with a critic, it is important to consider the source, their motives, and whether or not there is truth to their criticism- but without some type of framework or filter for these judgments and opinions, we may subject ourselves to years of damaging words, thoughts, and judgments. This fuels insecurity, an insatiable desire to please others, and gives rise to one of the worst critics of them all.
We will discuss that critic in a separate post, but it is even more devious and deceptive than the rest and wields a power over us that can cripple our self-worth and any hope for a brighter future. In order to understand and address that critic, it is imperative that we do a healthy appraisal of the other critics in our lives.
Until then, my prayer is that we can all better assess the criticism we receive by considering the source, the motive, and the truth and from there move forward into profiting from helpful criticism or dismissing that which could result in harm.
Challenge: Let’s try something together. The next time your critic hurls something at you, don’t blindly accept it, hold on to it, assess it, and then determine if it merits your emotion, action, or disregard.