“How do you handle criticism?” Somebody asked me that one time. I think I failed the test. I said that “Criticism doesn’t really bother me if I know I’m doing the right thing.” I don’t think I knew what I was talking about. At that time I had been criticized, but I hadn’t been criticized enough. I should have said, “I’m still learning how to deal with criticism.” The truth is, though criticism can sometimes help, it usually hurts.
Recognizing that I still have lots to learn about handling criticism, (and realizing that there are those out there ready to help me learn) here’s what I have learned so far.
- Consider the criticism—Of course, the first step to take when criticized is to consider the criticism. The criticism could be right and justified. As such, we should pay attention to the criticism. Reportedly, Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War in Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, once called Lincoln a fool. Lincoln inquired of the informer, “Did Stanton really call me a fool?”
“He did, sir,” was the response.
Lincoln replied, “Stanton is a wise man. If he said that I was a fool, I had better look into the matter.”
- Consider the source—Some people are just critical. One time I got a pretty scathing letter of criticism. In addition to just plain meanness, the letter was filled with inaccuracies. Worst of all, the person assumed wrong intentions on my part. Instead of the usual discouragement that criticism brings, this particular letter just made me plain mad. Then, I remembered, this particular person had a history of being critical about everything and everyone.
- Some people will criticize you for the very same thing that others offer you praise. I suspect that the lesson here is to not pay too close attention to either the praise or the criticism. One makes you susceptible to discouragement; the other makes you susceptible to pride.
- You will deal with criticism unless you decide to do nothing. My favorite quote on criticism, first shared with me by my football coach in college, comes from Teddy Roosevelt.
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.
- Remember that all of the great heroes of the faith were criticized. Moses quickly comes to mind. No sooner than he, by God’s power, led the people out of slavery in Egypt, they were complaining about their lack of food, water, and the wilderness.
So, unless you plan to do nothing, you will deal with criticism. I pray we learn to handle it by grace and remember that we are in pretty good company with others who have been criticized.