By David Hegg
We live in an increasingly critical world. With the explosion of social media, our natural tendencies to be critical about everything have an inexhaustible outlet that offers both immediate gratification and anonymity. This is a very dangerous combination, especially if – like me – you are a public figure at some level. The wider your life and ideas are known, the more criticism you are bound to get. And, it turns out, that’s not all bad!
Here are some things I’ve learned about criticism.
1. Things are not as bad as they may appear. By this I mean it is hardly ever the fact that the most vocal critics are in the majority. It is also often the case that critics are mad about someone or something else and are merely taking it out on you. Great leaders have learned from Olympic ice skating to “throw out the high and the low” and get on with life. If you think what you’re saying is worth saying, and true, then let the critics blow their air and don’t worry about it.
2. You can learn valuable things from your critics that you’ll never hear from your friends. Friends may sometimes tell you some hard things but critics always do. And while some criticism is unwarranted, some of it can hit home in ways we all need. No one is right all the time, and maybe God created golf and critics to keep us humble!
3. Criticism can help wean you away from thinking everyone has to love you. Few diseases are more debilitating to leadership than that of “people pleasing.” If you try to keep everyone happy, you’ll end up disappointing everybody at some point, and failing to do your job in the end. Criticism can help! Over time you’ll come to see just how ridiculous a majority of critics are, and you’ll find it easier and easier to take in their concerns, keep anything that might be helpful and toss the rest without another thought.
Criticism also tells you that you’re where you are supposed to be: smack dab in the middle of the marketplace of ideas, putting yourself out there, attempting to stimulate productive thought and action. Remember, most critics haven’t been where you are. They’ve never “played the game” and are consigned to sit in the stands and hurl invective at those courageous enough to make themselves vulnerable.
4. Criticism shows you must be saying things that pique widespread interest in relevant areas. No one critiques the irrelevant. So, if you’re getting picked on, it must mean that you’re at least talking about something important. And if something is important, it is essential that all angles be covered, each perspective considered, and all the facts brought to bear. When critics disagree, I figure it’s just their way of saying “thanks for bringing another opinion to the table.”
5. You never have to answer your critics. This is the most important thing I’ve learned about criticism. You never have to respond to your critics! There is nothing in the rulebook that says you and I have to take the time to rebut every comment or criticism. Neither do we have to try and persuade our critics that we’re right and they’re blind to it. We’ve already put our thoughts out there, and they can do whatever they want with it, but it won’t obligate further interaction on our part.
There are some critics that I feel obligated to interact with, and continue the dialogue. They come at their criticism in a winsome manner, and honorably sign their name. Those who truly want to enter into a profitable discourse demonstrate their good intentions by refusing both inflammatory language and anonymity.
Remember, iron does sharpen iron, but only if it comes at the right angle. Now … I await the arrival of my favorite critics!
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.