As humans, we struggle with conflict that can make our jobs difficult, our lives stressful and our behavior sometimes inconsistent. One area of great struggle is criticism. Think for a moment of how difficult it is to help others without being critical. Hold on! Not yet! Think a bit longer…… It is perplexing and very difficult to imagine going through life without criticism.
Yet in Matthew chapter 7 verse 1 of the Christian New Testament Bible it is written ‘Do not judge others or you will be judged.’ I reviewed several translations to determine if there were inconsistencies in this verse. The 1599 Geneva Bible is written ‘We may not give judgement of our neighbors,’ and the Orthodox Jewish Bible reads ‘Judge not lest you be judged.’ I found no inconsistency with any of the translations that I researched. Jesus’ instructions as recorded from the Sermon on the Mount regarding judging others is very simply put; He says, ‘Don’t.’
Criticism is one of the ordinary activities of people, but in the spiritual realm nothing is accomplished by it. So therein lies the conflict between the natural and the spiritual. We naturally live in a world where criticism is going to occur and is necessary for correction, instruction and direction. I was just told by my son-in-law Eric to get some exercise instead of working all day (it is Saturday) and that I need to take care of myself. He sounded a bit like my nurse friend Lynne who recently told me that I was ‘too stressed out and that I worked too hard.’ They were both being critical of me, but I know they were telling me what they were because they care about me. That is what I consider ‘loving care’ versus criticism. Had they delivered their message to me in another way it may have affected my emotions differently and had a more negative impact. Communication is a different topic for discussion but critically important (pun intended) when it comes to correction, instruction, and showing concern. The tone, heart and mindset make a great deal of difference on the impact of the message.
Constructive criticism is still criticism and requires a special skill to provide positive and immediate help to the one being instructed. We have all been harshly criticized and years later realized the benefit of that kick in the pants, but at the time did not find any value in the chewing out. The impact was more destructive than constructive. Putting ourselves in their shoes helps us have empathy for them, and I’m not speaking only of the one being criticized, but also the one delivering the message. If someone is holding me accountable or calling me out for what they think is ‘off track,’ it serves my emotions well to try to understand where they are coming from. The words are the words, but the message carries a whole lot more, as it comes from someone’s emotions, thoughts and intentions. If you are critical of me because you are simply ticked off at me that will almost assuredly affect me in a negative way. If you are approaching me with genuine concern for me and not just you, I will probably sense that and receive your message more openly.
It can be said that criticism is the dividing up of the strengths of the one being criticized. Criticizing can make you harsh, vindictive, cruel, and leave you with the soothing and flattering idea that you are somehow superior to others. In that same Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructed His followers to cultivate a temperament that is never critical. The word temperament is key to me. If we have a critical temperament in the natural, and even the spiritual, we have a negative impact on those around us. Temperament is a noun that is defined as ‘a person’s or animal’s nature, especially as it permanently affects their behavior.’ If you or I have a harsh temperament, that is how we will criticize others. Jesus instructed (and still does through His word) those listening to develop a non-critical temperament, so you and I should also. It doesn’t happen quickly, but must be developed over time. We must constantly beware of thinking of ourselves as superior, and have a genuinely caring, and loving attitude toward others.
Some words to ponder from Matthew chapter 7 verse 3 ‘And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?’ Consider the possibility that with every wrong that we see in someone else, the same is found in us, and every time we judge, we condemn our self.
Lynne and Eric, your points are well taken. Thank you for your concern. I am heading out on a run now and then for a workout at the gym.