Pastoral Letter | June 22, 2018

This week’s reflection is on the topic of critique and criticism. Aristotle put it really well when he said, “Criticism is something we can avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing.” It would seem to me that anyone with strong opinions and powerful ideas is bound to get themselves criticized by at least one other person every day. It is a sad state of affairs that many people give up their right to speak out for fear of criticism. John Wooden once said, “You can’t let criticism get to you. It is weakness to get caught up in it.” There are people who are actually trying to be helpful with their critique. Now I’m not saying that is all people, but those who love and respect us are likely trying to improve our relationships and our opportunities for success. It’s important to place a little balance in this discussion about critique and I believe Dale Carnegie stated it well when he wrote, “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain, but it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.” The bible gives high regard to forgiveness and every critique needs to include components of positive reinforcement and forgiveness for wrongdoing.

Perhaps it would be helpful to consider Judith Martin’s reflection when she stated, “When virtues are pointed out first, flaws seem less insurmountable.” I don’t know about you but I find it much easier to receive criticism when there is also a compliment associated with it in the same conversation. Notwithstanding, we probably need to consider Ralph Waldo Emmerson’s statement, “Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am always persecuted whenever I’m contradicted.” Yes it’s true, everyone is welcome to their own opinion and some don’t hesitate to share it. Even though it can sometimes feel personal, it may be more about them than us.

Wendy Kopp summarized this thought of who has the right to criticize and who does not when she wrote, “You will find it will almost be more comfortable to sit on the sidelines and critique the builders from afar. But at the end of the day, the people who make a difference, the people who change history are not the haters.” I believe that Wendy is encouraging people to get active, to get involved, to do the work and then enjoy the rights and privileges of critiquing the situation of which they are a part and have created.

When it comes to our most intimate relationships we need to be extremely careful about how we criticize our spouse. Gary Chapman writes, “People tend to criticize their spouse most loudly in the area where they themselves have the deepest emotional need.” Now that is something to think about. When it comes to our children it’s helpful to remember what Joseph Joubert said, “Children need models rather than critics”.

All of this brings us to the moment whereby we ask ourselves an important question. “Who do I spend the most time with?” Critics or encouragers? Surround yourself with those who believe in you. Your life is too important for anything else”, says Steve Goodyear.

I believe that our Lord occasionally critiqued his disciples. Let’s remember that these were his twelve best friends. How many of us have chosen twelve best friends? How many of us have two or three? In our Lord’s model of servant leadership, he guided and instructed them but he also shared his journey with them. Therefore, any critique he m ay have given had the motive of improving their relationships and inspiring them to be all that God would want them to be. Therefore, the motive of critique and criticism is essential for our consideration.

So is there a place for critique and criticism in the relationships that matter to us the most? The answer is yes, but it must include a motive that is healthy and nurturing to our relationships. Norman Vincent Peele once said, “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” Perhaps one solution is asking ourselves , “What would Christ have me say to the people I’m with today?”